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" I was born upon the prairie where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew free breath. I want to die there, and not within walls." - Ten Bears, Comanche Chief


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Navajo Nation (Navajo Naabeehó Dine'é) is the name of a sovereign Native American nation established by the Diné. The Navajo Nation Reservation includes about 27,000 square miles (70,000 km˛) of land, slightly smaller than Maine or South Carolina) over part of three states, and is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States of America. The 2000 census reported 253,000 Navajo members, of whom 131,166 resided in Arizona. 17,512 of these lived in Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix.

The Nation's boundaries abut the Ute Nation at the Four Corners Monument landmark and stretch across the Colorado Plateau into Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Located within the Navajo Nation are Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Monument Valley, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the Hopi Indian Reservation and the Shiprock landmark. The seat of government is located at the town of Window Rock, Arizona.

Members of the nation are often known as Navajo, also spelled Navaho. Navajo call themselves Diné, a term from the Navajo language that means people. The Navajo are closely related to the Apache, and the Navajo language along with other Apache languages make up the Southern Athabaskan language family.

Congress established a Hopi (Navajo Oozéí or Ayahkinii 'underground-house-people') reservation within the Navajo Nation's reservation at a historic homeland where Hopi history predates that of Diné in the area.

A conflict over shared lands emerged in the 1980s when the Department of the Interior attempted to relocate Diné living in the Navajo/Hopi Joint Use Area. The conflict was resolved, or at least forestalled, by the award of a 75-year lease to Diné who refused to leave the former shared lands. Another Diné and Hopi group lives on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation along the Colorado River in western Arizona.

The Navajo (Diné) and Apache tribal groups of the American Southwest speak dialects of the language family referred to as Athapaskan. Athapaskan peoples in North America fan out from west-central Canada where some Athapaskan-speaking groups still reside. Linguistic similarities indicate the Navajo and Apache were once a single ethnic group. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests a recent entry of these people into the American Southwest, with substantial numbers not present until the early 1500s. Navajo oral traditions retain mention of this migration.

Athapaskan speakers probably moved into the Southwest from the Great Plains where 16th-century Spanish accounts identified them as "dog nomads." These mobile groups hunted bison, lived in tents, and used dogs to pull travois loaded with their possessions. In April 1541, while traveling on the plains east of the Pueblo region, Francisco Coronado wrote:

After seventeen days of travel, I came upon a rancheria of the Indians who follow these cattle (bison). These natives are called Querechos. They do not cultivate the land, but eat raw meat and drink the blood of the cattle they kill. They dress in the skins of the cattle, with which all the people in this land clothe themselves, and they have very well-constructed tents, made with tanned and greased cowhides, in which they live and which they take along as they follow the cattle. They have dogs which they load to carry their tents, poles, and belongings. (See Hammond and Rey.)

The Spaniards described Plains dogs as very white, with black spots, and "not much larger than water spaniels." Plains dogs were slightly smaller than those used for hauling loads by modern northern Canadian peoples. Recent experiments show these dogs may have pulled loads up to 50 lb (23 kg) on long trips, at rates as high as two or three miles an hour (3 to 5 km/h). (See Henderson)

Although there is some evidence Athapaskan peoples may have visited the Southwest as early as the 13th century AD, most scientists believe they arrived permanently only a few decades before the Spanish. The Athabaskan nomadic way of life complicates accurate dating, primarily because they constructed less-substantial dwellings than other Southwestern groups. They also left behind a more austure set of tools and material goods. Sites where early Athapaskans may have lived are difficult to locate, and even more difficult to firmly identify as culturally Athapaskan.

Trade between the long established Pueblo peoples and the Athapaskans become important to both groups by the mid 16th century. The Pueblos exchanged maize and woven cotton goods for bison meat, hides and material for stone tools. Coronado observed Plains people wintering near the Pueblos in established camps. In 1540, Coronado reported the modern Western Apache area as uninhabited and other Spaniards first mention Apache living west of the Rio Grande in the 1580s. So, it is likely that the Apaches moved into their current southwestern homelands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Athapaskans expanded their range through the 17th century, occupying areas the Pueblos peoples had abandoned during prior centuries. The Spanish first mention the "Apachu de Nabajo" (Navaho) in the 1620s, referring to people in the Chama region east of the San Juan River. By the 1640s, the term was applied to Athapaskan peoples from the Chama on the east to the San Juan on the west.

The Navajo Nation has built a modern economy on traditional endeavors such as sheep herding, fiber production, weaving, jewelry making and art trading. Newer industries that employ members include coal and uranium mining, though the uranium market slowed near the end of the 20th century. The Navajo Nation's extensive mineral resources are among the most valuable held by Native American nations within the United States. The Navajo government employs hundreds in civil service and administrative jobs. Other Navajo members work at retail stores and other businesses within the Nation's reservation or in nearby towns.

Until 2004, the Navajo Nation had declined to join other indigenous nations within the United States who have opened casinos. That year, the nation signed a compact with the state of New Mexico to operate a casino at To'hajiilee, near Albuquerque. Navajo leaders also negotiated with Arizona state officials in talks that could lead to casinos near Flagstaff and Lake Powell.

The Diné have three times refused to establish a new government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Members twice rejected constitutional initiatives offered by the federal government in Washington, first in 1935 and again in 1953. A reservation-based initiative in 1963 failed after members found the process to be too cumbersome and a potential threat to their self-determination. A constitution was drafted and adopted by the governing council but never ratified by the members. The earlier efforts were rejected primarily because members did not find enough freedom in the proposed forms of government to develop their livestock industries, in 1935, and their mineral resources, in 1953.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies that routinely work within the Navajo Nation include the Navajo Division of Public Safety, often called the Navajo Police, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, often called the BIA, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The United States still asserts plenary power to require the Navajo Nation to submit all proposed laws to the United States Secretary of the Interior for Secretarial Review, through the BIA. Most conflicts and controversies between the federal government and the Nation are settled by negotiation and by political agreements. Laws of the Navajo Nation are currently codified in the Navajo Tribal Code.

The Navajo governing council continues a historical practice of prohibiting alcohol sales within reservation boundaries. Navajo residents who drink alcohol often obtain supplies in nearby cities, such as Gallup and Grants, New Mexico. For some visitors of the area — often attracted by the Indian jewelry trade, by tourist attractions or by the Interstate Highway that passes through the area — heavy traffic to off-reservation liquor stores, and the public drunkenness that often follows have created impressions that drunkenness seems to describe Indian culture. Leaders and some member groups actively oppose the sale of alcohol, and have taken several measures to find and offer treatment for those members who are suffering from alcoholism.