“Our way of life is our religion, and our teaching. If we are relocated by force, we will die slowly. The people would not be in balance with Mother Earth and Sky Father and the spiritual people. In every way, here we are connected to the land. We belong here.”
—Mary T. Begay, Navajo elder
Traditional Navajo life is inseparable from religion, seeking to maintain balance between individuals and the universe and to live in harmony with nature. All living things are considered relatives, each containing its own spirit or inner form. The interrelatedness of the universe is recognized by religious ceremonies and prayer offerings.
Navajo people view the earth as a spiritual mother, with family comprising a network of Holy People and livestock as well as human relatives. Navajo religion is defined by relationships to specific geographical places, such as sacred sites of special religious events. A Navajo’s relationship to the land where he or she is born begins at birth, through the burial of the umbilical cord on the land and the placenta beneath a young tree. This ensures that the child will be nurtured by a spiritual mother for the rest of his or her life. Such ceremonial offerings to the land continue as a child grows older, strengthening community ties as well as ties to family and land.
Each Navajo family sees their home site as sacred. If one is forced to move away from his or her land, he or she is denied access to sacred places, and therefore cannot practice religion freely. Without being able to perform ceremonies on their homeland, for example, a family cannot protect their ancestors and will lose all familial and historical ties. The United States government’s forcible removal and relocation of Native Americans from their homelands had profound religious implications for the Navajo people—relocated Navajos were unable to fulfill their duties as caretakers of their land and the earth, thus disrupting the order of the universe and the process of life.
The Creation Story
Central to Navajo beliefs is the Navajo creation story. Here is one version:
Humans emerged from a series of underworlds, where they existed as insects or animals. The deities, or Holy People, include Holy Supreme Wind, who gave life to all the other Holy People, and Changing Woman, who taught the people how to live. She married the Sun, and her twin sons, Monster Slayer and Child of the Waters, used lighting bolts to slay the monsters who were killing the new Earth People.
Talking God taught the people how to make the first hogan, where the people first met to arrange their world. They named the four sacred mountains that became the boundaries of their homeland: San Francisco Peaks in the west, Mt. Blanco in the east, Mt. Taylor in the south and Mt. Hesperus in the north. Then the Holy People put the sun and moon in the sky and were carefully arranging the stars. But Coyote, the Trickster, grew impatient and took the blanket containing the stars and flung the remaining stars into the sky. The Holy People also created the four original clans, and Changing Woman created four more clans to keep her company when she visited her husband, the Sun, every evening. They traveled from the west and joined the other clans already living at Dinetah.
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