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The "Navajo" Pattern and it's Significance

Written by Krystle Linton


The Navajo tribe are the Native American people of the Southwestern United States. They called themselves "Dine" or "the People". They have suffered throughout history, like the majority of other indigenous people and minority groups, via genocide and forced assimilation, the effects of which still create many challenges for the health and wellbeing of the tribe members today. 


A brief history/ key defining times  

(This is not a detailed history as it is beyond the scope of this blog post – these events do not define the Navajo people but are important events to note). 

  • Prior to Colombus landing in the area (1491), Navajo people roamed the Four Corners Area in the Colorado Plateau.  
  • Battles over land began in 1805 – notably the Massacre at Canyon de Chelly — Spanish soldiers kill more than 100 Navajo women, children, and elders hiding in a cave 
  • Wars with the Americans begin, Navajo taken and used as slaves North of Window Rock, Arizona, Fort Defiance was established in 1851 to create a military presence in Navajo Country. It was built on valuable grazing land that the federal government then prohibited the Navajo from using. 
  • Unsuccessful 1860 attack by the Navajo. The next year, at the onset of the Civil War, the army abandoned Fort Defiance due to prolonged fighting.  
  • 1863 The next US Army plan was a scorched earth policy. Burn every Navajo or Apache crop found, drive them to starvation, then let them come to the army and surrender. It was a simple plan that worked. 
  • In 1864 In a forced removal, the U.S. Army drives the Navajo at gunpoint as they walk from their homeland in Arizona and New Mexico, to Fort Sumner, 300 miles away at Bosque Redondo. Hundreds die during 18 days of marching. Only about 9,000 Navajos reach the fort. This is now referred to as The Long Walk. In respect to weaving: The arrival of the first Navajo to Fort Summer marked the end of the weaving era known as the “classic period” and begins the “late classic” era. 
  • 1868 The Treaty of Bosque Redondo creates a Navajo Reservation – Navajo people returned to their land from Fort Summer which established Navajo as a sovereign nation. 
  • Extended battles continue against the government to live and thrive on their land.



Much like indigenous populations worldwide, Navajo people are still facing an extended list of challenges, the most pressing issues being: 

  • Widespread Poverty and unemployment 
  • Poor physical and mental health 
  • Overcrowded poor quality housing. 
  • disproportionate incarceration 
  • Limited access/ effectiveness of education 
  • They have the right to vote but they may be more than 100 miles from polling stations and they may not be literate  

Indian nations do not own their reservation lands. Rather, the lands are held in trust by the federal government. This prevents Native Americans who live on reservations from leveraging their assets for loans, making it difficult for them to start businesses or promote economic growth in the area. 


The significance of Weaving  

Navajo textiles are more than an expression of art; they are an expression of spirituality, community, and cultural continuity. According to Navajo tradition, weaving is the most ancient and sacred practice of their people.  

Two spirits, the Spider People, brought hemp seeds to the Navajo. Spider Man taught them to make the loom, while Spider Woman taught them how to weave so that they could always provide for themselves (something that is currently being challanged!). From this, the entire Navajo conception of society, balance, harmony, and prosperity was founded. In this history, we see that weaving rivals farming or hunting in terms of importance to the Navajo. 


How the pressures on the Navajo People changed their weavings

While Navajo blankets have been made of wool since sheep were introduced by the Spanish in the 17th century, tradition suggests that plant fibres like indigenous hemp may have been used for textiles before this. Designs on Navajo textiles are usually geometric in character with the triangle and diamond forming the most basic elements.

While at Fort Summer the Navajo were still weaving and making jewellery. Government supplies of commercial cloth and yarn were being issued at Bosque Redondo and the weaving of this time displays a vast array of raveled and plied materials of many different colours – something new to the usual earthy colours of Navajo weaving.  

When the Navajo returned to their homeland, after all much of their livestock and land has been destroyed, they were destitute. The government continued to supply the Navajo with cloth, yarn, sheep, and foodstuffs, but these annuities were intermittent at best. Government annuities dwindled after the Civil War with congress concerned over the post-war expenses. They, nevertheless, continued to weave to provide for themselves.  

Introduction to different breeds of sheep and new artificial dyes meant The “late classic” era in Navajo weaving ended and the “transitional period” was begun. These “transitional” blankets varied widely in their artistry and quality. Some traders bought the blankets by the pound, causing the entrepreneurial Navajo to fail to wash the grease from the wool and to make additions of sand and lard to add to the weight. This time also marks when the designs were valued for their decorative purposes (eg woven rugs) not just practical uses like blankets.  

Impact of tourism and mass production

Roads were built and maintained throughout the reservation and tourism by the 1930s and 1940s weaving was a booming industry. 

As the popularity of Navajo rug designs increased, this allowed some fair trade businesses to thrive while Navajo weavers suffered – this is still happening.  
Copy or imitation Navajo weaving is currently produced in Guatemala, Peru, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Japan, Egypt, Hungary, Romania, northern Thailand and, in particular, Oaxaca, Mexico. In tapestry weaving, there are obviously some common elements (like creating geometric designs) because of the relationship of the loom’s vertical warps to horizontal wefts. However, appropriation of Navajo designs and lack of communal copyright protection for historic patterns has seriously eroded the volume of thousands of Navajo weavers’ sales. Navajo weavers have seen a large decline and only the minority make an adequate living. 

Weaving is not only culturally significant but also a cornerstone of their economy. It needs to be protected. 


How can you help!? 

Adopt A Native Elder is a non-profit charitable organization that provides food, medical supplies, yarn, and firewood for the Elders within the Navajo Reservation.  Their focus is on supporting the traditional Elders who desire to remain on their Lands, living in the traditional ways of the Dine'. 

I am donating 25% of the proceeds from the “Navajo Pattern” to "Adopt An Elder" who serve to help reduce extreme poverty and hardship facing these traditional Elders.

$40 yarn bundles may also be donated for a weaver to make a small rug to sell. You may also purchase a weaver’s rug from the website. 100% of the proceeds go directly to the weaver. You may also make general donations that are used for food, firewood and other essentials. 


Assist More generally with Indigenous populations in the States

With your support, Cultural Survival empowers and supports Indigenous Peoples to advocate for their rights — human rights, the right to participate and have a voice, the right to practice their cultures and speak their languages, the right to access the same opportunities as others, and the right to control and sustainably manage their assets and resources — so that they may determine for themselves the future they will lead. 

Donate money or time to get involved. 




Thank you for reading and showing your support.












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