Begay-Bitsuie spoke about her activism that has continued since her time as Miss Navajo in 2001 and 2002. Whoever is selected for this title each year at Window Rock — the capital of the Navajo reservation near the Arizona-New Mexico border — serves as a representative for her people on a national and international stage and promotes the importance of the preservation of language and culture. She said she continues to be concerned about this issue because the number of people who speak Native American languages is on a very steep decline.
In 1931, Congress authorized 84,000 acres — entirely on the Navajo Nation — as Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Lawmakers wanted to preserve the archaeological resources in the canyon. Today, about 80 extended Navajo families have the right to use the canyon.
While the Navajo were feared as fierce raiders and warriors, they were not without provocation. The Spanish colonies began a system of encroachment, agreement, breech, and warfare that the new Americans would come to perfect. By the time the Americans arrived on the scene, the Navajo had been at constant war with the Spanish and Mexican colonies who themselves raided the Navajo mercilessly, taking their women and children as slaves.
Whenever possible the People retreated rather than fought, and they made no exception in this case. During this time the Navajo became prosperous materially, artistically, and ceremonially—a development that led Nathaniel Patton to write in the Missouri Intelligencer in 1824 that the Navajo were superior to the Plains Indians because they fashioned clothes, designed jewelry, raised livestock, and cultivated land.
In aboriginal times there were important Navajo ceremonies connected with war, hunting, agriculture, and the treatment of illness. In the reservation period, nearly all of the major public ceremonies have come to focus on curing in the broadest sense—that is, on the restoration of harmony with the supernaturals. There are, or have been, at least sixty major ceremonies, most of which involve an intricate combination of songs, prayers, magical rituals, the making of prayer-sticks and other paraphernalia, and the making of an elaborate dry-painting using colored sands.
The Navajo culture used Sandpainting as a spiritual way to heal the sick. When they sandpainted, they made the painting in a smooth bed of sand, which was only temporary. Crushed yellow ochre, red sandstone, gypsum, and charcoal were used to create the images during their chants. The chants were for the Earth people and the holy people to come back into harmony, which provides them protection and healing.
Traditionally, the Navajos are a matriarchal society, with descent and inheritance determined through one's mother. Navajo women have traditionally owned the bulk of resources and property, such as livestock. In cases of marital separation, women retained the property and children. In cases of maternal death children were sent to live with their mother's family. Traditional Navajo have a strong sense of family allegiance and obligation.
Generally speaking, Navajos do not live in villages. Their traditions did not dictate this necessity, as is common with other Native American societies. They have always banded together in small groups, often near a source of water. Their wide dispersion across the reservation is due in part to the limited amount of grazing land, and the limited availability of water.
The world in which the Navajo live, their Dinehtah, lies cradled between four sacred mountains; The La Platas of the North, Sierra Blanca and Pelado Peak in the East, Mount Taylor and the Zuni Mountains in the South, and the San Francisco Peaks of the West. Archaeological study until recently maintained that the Navajo were relative newcomers to the area.
Anthropologists believe the Navajos probably arrived in the Southwest between 800 and 1,000 years ago, crossing the Bering Strait land bridge and traveling south. The Navajo people call themselves Dine', literally meaning "The People." The Dine' speak about their arrival on the earth as a part of their story on the creation.
The Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah , Arizona and New Mexico , covering over 27,000 square miles of unparalleled beauty. Diné Bikéyah, or Navajoland, is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America.
If you see the Navajo government here (http://www.navajo-nsn.gov/govt.htm) you can see that they truly think of themselves as one nation, with their own infrastructure and bureaucracy. I heard in a lecture that Native Americans prefer the term "Nation" rather than "Tribe" as it more accurately describes the nature of the group.
The Navajo, call themselves Dineh, which means "The People” in the Navajo language. Closely related to the Apache, the Navajo are an Athapascan-speaking people who migrated southwest from the west central Canada around the 15th century.