Residing in the Southwest United States, the Navajo Indian tribe is one of the largest tribes in America today.
In their own language, they refer to themselves as Dine which means “the people”. They are an old tribe with descendants tracing their roots back to the thirteenth century. The first contact that the Navajos had with white settlers was during the Mexican American War in 1846. The United States conducted peaceful relations with the Navajo for over fifteen years. Forts were built to help protect the Navajo from Spanish/Mexican raids on the Navajo’s cattle.Eventually, a new military commander, James H.
Carleton, was named in New Mexico and he began to raid Navajo lands with a vengeance. He ordered the Navajo to surrender. When the majority of the Navajo refused, their crops were destroyed and they were forced to leave their lands in what is called ‘The Long Walk’. They were forced to a reservation in Fort Sumter, New Mexico some 300 miles away. The reservation failed because it was designed to support four to five thousand but there were nine thousand Navajos that were displaced onto the reservation.
Finally a treaty was developed that included parts of their homeland as the reservation and the Navajo were then allowed to return to the new reservation. For the most part, the Native Americans prospered with a few skirmishes from white settlers. The prosperity didn’t last as the U. S. government decided that the Navajo cattle were overgrazing the land. Immediately, over eighty percent of all the livestock was exterminated in what was called ‘The Navajo Livestock Reduction’. This was a low blow to the Navajos, culturally and economically.The government then started to try to mainstream the Navajo tribe by placing children in English speaking schools and teaching Christianity.
In World War II, the government stopped aiding the Navajos because they lived in a ‘communal’ society. The people of the Navajo nation suffered in hunger for many years until the war was over and they once again received help form the government. Ironically, it was Navajo code talkers that were enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II. These men developed a code that was undecipherable in their native tongue that allowed troops to communicate during the war.The modern Navajo Nation Territory is stretched across three states- southeast Utah, northwest New Mexico and northeast Arizona.
To be considered a Navajo Native American, an individual must have a ‘blood certificate’ that certifies that they are one-fourth Dine by blood. As of 2000, there were 173,987 blood certified, Navajo Indians in the United States, with 58. 34%of them living on the territory lands (Wikipedia, 2010). They have a government that is modeled after the United States government with executive, judicial, and legislative branches.
They also have a Constitution and their own laws. There are Navajo police that work with federal government officials when the need arises. As with any nation, big or small, there are always issues that must be faced. The Navajo nation is no different. There are constant struggles to educate, empower, provide and protect the people and natural resources.
According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational progress report-only seventeen percent of Native American fourth graders scored at or above proficient on the standardized tests (Reyner, 2010).While these numbers are for all Native Americans including the Navajo, they statistics show that the education level is very low. Educating the future adults that will lead the Navajo nation is a challenge. Truancy, gangs, alcohol use and drugs play a part in luring the young teenagers from high school. Teenagers often dropped out of school because they were bored as the curriculum was not structured for Navajo, often with ‘Americanized’ curriculum. The economy within the Navajo nation is struggling.
There are no jobs on the Reservation and many attempts to open businesses have failed.Unemployment is high with twenty eight percent unemployed. The annual per capita income of individuals in the Navajo Nation in 1998 was $4,124.
The average American annual per capita for the same year was $14,420. Over 56% of the nation lives below the poverty level. There is a disparagingly large gap between the Navajo and their American counterparts. Even basic necessities such as plumbing, electricity, telephone, and cable are virtually nonexistent. Over half of the nation uses wood stoves to primarily provide heat their homes. There are no television or radio stations, no public libraries or transportation systems.The Navajo are still living in primarily primitive conditions. Healthcare issues abound in the Navajo nation as the healthcare is mainly aligned for medical care, not preventative, rehabilitation or mental health programs.
Alcoholism, inadequate nutrition, high blood pressure, and obesity and diabetes are major concerns within the area. Sanitation, nutrition and housing are blamed as the underlying causes for the many illnesses that the Navajos are faced with. The average age of death is 42 years old for Navajos as compared to the 71 years for Americans.These problems have been steadily growing for the past 50 years.
The population has been growing with no economic resources to draw from; therefore, health care can not advance without money. The lack of an enriching education has had a far reaching effect on the Navajo Nation. This has been a problem for a long time, ever since they were removed to the Reservation. They missed the investments that are made in children when attending within a school system that cares for them.
A balance was never found between the Navajo heritage, curricula and educating with non-Navajo teachers.Many students and parents gave up and left the school system because heritage was deemed more important, school was boring or no one cared. Parents remember the “old- school” when they were taught that their heritage was wrong and all they knew was wrong. A fear and hatred for ‘white’ school has been embedded within the older clans’ people.
Many don’t enforce the children to stay in school and only do it because the law says so. They are not realizing that without proper education, the Navajo Nation can not prosper and will remain in poverty. There is a proven and strong correlation between education and income across the world.The more education that an individual has, the more income he or she can obtain with a higher paying job. However, it would not be enough to just attend school.
The quality of education that is received is just as important as the act of attending. The instruction and direction that is provided in a school system provides a rigor for life. Many bills and laws have been passed to help set up education reform but with little or no effect. In the time that the Native Americans were placed on Reservations and 1871, over 400 treaties were signed with the government.Of those, 120 promised to move the Indian children to ’civilized’ children.
Such treaties had the children put into boarding schools where they were to be taught the ’white man’s way’. Schools like this were meant to “kill the Indian, save the man” (Reyhner, 2010). Later, Missionaries were funded by the Government to educate the children in missions and this failed as well. Struggles to educate and reform the Navajo and Native Americans continued until Nixon’s Presidency. A proposal was finally proposed that the government step back and offer assistance to tribes who wanted to work their own problems out.In 1970 Nixon declared to Congress that: “It is long past time that the Indian policies of the Federal government began to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people. Both as a matter of justice and as a matter of enlightened social policy, we must begin to act on the basis of what the Indians themselves have long been telling us.
The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions. Other laws and Acts were passed such as the Indian Education Act of 1972, which provided money for special programs for Indian children on and off reservations. Next, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 were passed and it allows tribes and Indian organizations to take over and run Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) programs, including their schools. However, the school system wasn’t working as it should have. The culmination of those failed efforts came to light in 1990/1991 hearings by the U. S. Secretary of Education’s Indian Nations at Risk Task Force.
At these hearings, it was found that “many Native students still attended schools with ‘an unfriendly school climate that fails to promote appropriate academic, social, cultural, and spiritual development among many Native students’”(Reyhner, 2010). In 1990, President Bush signed the Native American Languages Act, which states that “the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages. ” (Reyner, 2010).The government has finally stepped aside, and let the Navajo take care of their own heritage.
If students aren’t learning and being engaged, they are not being successful and it is an utter waste of time for all involved. In comparison to American children, the Navajo nation’s children are far behind and the drop out rate is staggering for teenagers in high school as it is double the national average. The Navajos education issues are different from the American issues with only a few similarities. The biggest difference is that the Navajo nation is primarily segregated from Americans.
Their education at one time was more about Americanizing the Navajos rather than teaching and applying the curriculum to the native ways. Recently, there has been a changing of the tide and numbers are slowly starting to turn around. Navajo Nation has their own school system therefore; some of the benefits of larger school systems are not afforded to the Navajos. The students in Navajo schools develop closer bonds with their teachers than their white counterparts who can sometimes be seen as just a state ID number. Teachers now try to teach through native stories and ongoing dialogue and expect change to happen over time, not overnight.Teachers go through a strenuous training program so that they can succeed at teaching the Navajo Nation’s future.
New teaching internships are rigorous- 1 year of studying the Navajo then spending 18 weeks working with regular teachers, participating in at least one extracurricular activity and volunteering within the community on the weekends. The program is meant to immerse them into the culture so that they can relate to their students and have a better understanding of where they come from. The curriculum has been revamped to reflect cultural backgrounds and actively engage the students.
Another change that is taking place is that testing is being used help student learn, rather than label them. The citizens of the nation have ‘come on board’ and support the schools and the effort that they putting forth. The schools themselves have responded back to the community by organizing food drives and finding scholarships for the children to attend camps/events outside the reservation. Technology has started to trickle along with new school buildings complete with libraries. Tribal colleges have been opened to give young men and women a chance to go to college that would never have the opportunity elsewhere.The Navajo have a strong sense of self-determination and self preservation.
The government realizes that the Navajo nation have their own ideals of freedom. It is a freedom from material possessions and freedom to connect to their heritage. To crush this freedom would go against the people’s natural rights. Our own Declaration of Independence states that we have certain “unalienable rights”. The Navajo were here before any of the ‘American’ ancestors and they are rightly encompassed within our nation to have those rights as well.There is an air of hope as the oppressiveness is gone from the reservation that great leaders will lead them for many generations to come.ReferencesAmerican Indian and Indigenous Education. (n.
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