Navajo (Diné) Cultural and Ecological Hybridization

Navajo cultural evolution has been incessant and accelerating over time. It is a fundamental occurrence and critical in understanding the Navajo culture. It’s possible the Navajo blended with the Anasazi people as late as 1100 AD, thus mixing Puebloan and Athabaskan cultural traits in the Dinetah homeland. This acculturation can be seen in their religion with Pueblo influences such as collection and use of corn pollen for rituals and blessings.

The cultural changes of the Navajo really began to take off with interaction to the Spanish. Spanish enslavement, settlement, and violence led Pueblo people to flee into the Dinetah land. The Athabaskan interaction with these refugees introduced weaving, pottery, and various religious ideas and resulted in the Navajo of more recent times.

Further acculturation occurred when the Navajo acquired metal processing methods from the Spanish. A subsistence pattern change was influenced by the Spanish. In the late 1700s, after the Spanish had arrived, the Navajo began to establish an identity tied to herding; switching from a mobile, hunting lifestyle. They began to use horses and this facilitated a mobile, herd-based culture and made for easier raiding, let alone introduction of metallurgy and it’s precious metals. With horses the Navajo culture began to change to one that focused on raiding sheep from Anglos who gained control of the area in 1846. This further caused their cultural evolution from settled hunters and farmers to pastoralist. Furthermore, it redirected their artistry toward manipulations of metals, stones, and gems into jewelry, as well as traditional textiles, all which Westerners valued for their beauty and utility, respectively. This value was bartered via goods as well as U.S. currency. The latter being of mysterious use at first (indigenous peoples see money as dead-weight, an ideal tool of another society’s value system).

The capitalistic mentalities of the surrounding cultures of Americans and Spanish rubbed off on the Navajo. Navajo blankets became popular for trade with the Spanish, Anglo-Americans, and other Native Americans as wool harvests increased to meet demands. The next item to become well-traded was silver jewelry. The Spanish introduced this craft to the Navajo and it benefited their economy through pawning. These instances really spurred the Navajo culture to convert to a more market economy mode of subsistence.

The material culture of the Navajo went beyond just making new crafts to trade to outsiders. American style clothing gained popularity after being considered taboo and a cause of illness. Dwellings remained as the traditional hogan but a type was acquired that had the American, four posts style. Additionally, Hispanic and Anglo architecture and dwellings slowly began to appear. The material culture was further changed in tool use. Hand-made stone axes and flint knapped knives were replaced by metal ones, as well as industrial-culture farming equipment and horses.

American involvement in World War I led to a rising demand for Navajo sheep and cattle, and in response, the Navajo greatly increased their herd sizes. Notably, in World War II the Navajo aided the U.S. as code talkers. After the war the government ceased the stock reduction policies it enforced since 1937. Navajo culture evolved again in the 1950s with the use of automobiles instead of horses.

All this must have influenced their worldview to some degree and their concepts of nature and life forces. Surprisingly, forceful missionary attempts were not successful and the Navajo maintained their religious concepts. A good example is the establishment of the Navajo Church. Instead of a Christian based program they employed rituals of the “peyote cult”, and services actually did celebrate American holidays but basic religious beliefs were Navajo, not Christian. Either I mean like the way America works know one person in charge of the guy is the president and Uvalde I think we’re out ccSince the 1950s Navajo social systems have evolved incredibly. They have established the Navajo Nation and social institutions began to arise, such as police, tribal colleges, and a tribal council.

Contemporary acculturations, and possibly hegemonies, have resulted from the Peabody mining, dams, and increased tourism, marketing of native crafts, and most recently, establishment of a casino. Despite the very large amount of acculturation from Anglos and Hispanics via economic, religious, and social traits the Navajo have maintained a sense of identity and have evolved painfully but successfully into the modern, market economy culture that surrounds them. The main losses of Navajo culture have been through the disappearance amongst young people of the use of the Navajo language and the belief in hozho. These are worldview changing occurrences and the Navajo have certainly adopted a new point of view as young members becoming enculturated in today’s Navajo Nation.