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Navajo Economy

navajocodetalkersadmin on February 7, 2018 - 10:00 am in Navajo History

The Navajo economy has undergone several distinct phases of transformation. From the sixteenth through late eighteenth century, when the Navajo tribes supposedly arrived at the southwestern region of the United States and populated the present day states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, there was no formal economy as such. Like other tribes of the era and before, ala Apache and Hopi, trading and raiding were common activities of the Navajo people. The Navajo were a semi-nomadic tribe till the twentieth century, more precisely until after the Second World War. The Navajo economy primarily comprised of agriculture, livestock, hunting and gathering, raiding and trading.


Silversmithing and weaving were integral to their culture. Pottery is still one of the fortes of the Navajo women, albeit there has been substantial decline in interest. Silversmithing has been well documented in the region. Atsidi Sani is believed to be the first silversmith of the Navajo tribe. Navajo silversmiths are known for having developed expertise in handmade jewelry such as bracelets, necklaces, tobacco flasks, bracers, silver earrings, bolos, buckles, hair ornaments and pins. These were sold to supplement the income of a family. The squash blossom necklace is one of the hallmarks of Navajo silversmiths. The Navajo have a longstanding tradition of weaving. They are adept at weaving blankets with distinct horizontal stripes, minimal patterning, red rectangular designs and diamond patterns. The Navajo economy changed with the development of railroads.


As a civilization, the Navajo have been into farming, trading and animal husbandry. They have been cultivating maize and raising livestock including goats and sheep for over a hundred and fifty years now. Trading was mostly focused on manufactured goods, from hides and woolen blankets to pottery and rugs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs started employing Navajo people at the turn of the twentieth century. Jobs were limited till mid-twentieth century. By the eighties, more than three-fourth of the income for the Navajo people came from wage work. Minerals, lumbering, tourism, livestock and farming have limited but considerable contributions to the Navajo economy.

Industrial arts has a significant place in Navajo culture. The women are highly skilled at pottery. The vessels created by the Navajo women are unique with their decorations, detailing and also the use of colors. The rugs made of wool are heavy and reliably durable. They are a favorite among traders. Turquoise jewelry is also a specialty of the Navajo people. With the recognition of the Navajo country and the tribe having its first president in 1990, the people have gradually started blending into the larger microcosm of the United States.

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