Navajo Religious And Social Views

The Navajos call themselves Dine’ — “the People” — which implies that other humans are “not-people” or are enemy people (anaii dine’e). Dine’ has a broad meaning; it means not just earth people, but holy people — diyin dine’e — with whom the Navajos are closely associated, thus giving them a sense of their divinity, or contentedness to the gods.

Peshlakai Etsetti Navajo Family with Christmas Tree

Peshlakai Etsetti Navajo Family with Christmas Tree – 1935 Christmas at Wupatki 

Photo courtesy NAU Cline Library Special Collections

In this, of course, they are not unique. All ethnic groups imagine themselves as chosen. James Axtell has written that the Indians of Canada and New England believed that they were superior to the French and English.

They thought their way of life the best, and when runaway Indian schoolboys returned to their tenacious cultures, they quickly relapsed into the old way. The prideful eastern Natives, whose conceit the Christian divines condemned as sinful, simply did not believe in the superiority of “civilization.”

The same may be said for the Navajo. The proscriptions laid on the true people by the Holy Beings did not apply to the non-Navajo. For instance, at one time (and still perhaps today), Navajos relied on Anglos to bury corpses as a way to avoid contamination by the dead.

Flora Bailey was asked to examine a corral of dead, blackened sheep that had been struck by lightning. If Navajos observed the lightning-struck sheep, they would become ill; if Bailey looked at them, she would not get sick because she was a white person, a non-Navajo.

In the early part of this century, Little Gambler asked William T. Williams to bury his brother, who was killed by lightning. Williams also shot a horse over his grave as Little Gambler requested. Little Gambler, however, would not attend the burial, and Williams did not tell him that before he got the corpse in the ground a coyote had fed on his brother’s body.

The proscriptions of the Holy Beings did not apply to the whites, so that Williams would not contaminate himself as the Navajo ran the risk of doing.

Navajo religion — its beauties, its curing, and indeed its taboos — extended its advantages and restrictions only to the Navajos.

Source: William H. Lyon, “Americans and Other Aliens in the Navajo Historical Imagination in the Nineteenth Century,” American Indian Quarterly24.1 (2000): 143, Questia, 20 Oct. 2007 

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  1. I am doing a project about the Navajo religion and I am only ten so bye.

  2. Kathleen A Burns says

    I have studied spirit, and all the majot religions. I started doing this, more or less, when I was a little girl in Catholic School. I knew THEY were wrong. I once found a boy turning blue after he was hung by his tie on the coathook. i took him down because it looked wrong to me and the blue warned me about something. I was punished for disobeying! SO I have studied Buddhism,so am now a believer, Zen, Hinduism, and Native relitions all over. There is only ONE TRUTH, you are your own master, you are your own guru. Live in harmony with life, blessing as in the Blessing Way. I find the Dine very like Zen and Tibetan Buddhism with the sand painting. Other cultures in the world do that too. It is beautiful
    I saw the Dalai Lama’s monks in the World Trade Center shortly before I left NYC to move to Maine Like to remember that image.

  3. I am an archeology student in Leiden University, The Netherlands. I am currently writing my bachelor thesis about the Navajo people, in particular their beautiful sand paintings (dry paintings). I am very interested in knowing what the contemporary Navajo people think about these creations and whether they still practice these healing ceremonies? Also I am aware there are other media forms such as rugs or silver jewellery that contain ceremonial dry painting designs. I was therefore wandering if the pottery, made by Navajo potters today, also contain these dry painting designs? Hopefully you could help me with these questions.

    Thank you very much,

    Jason Falkenburg