What are Some Native American Characteristics

The Native Americans of the American Southwest

Anasazi and Navajo

Between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley is the home of around 332,000 Navajo people. Here traces of the Anasazi culture from the first century AD can be found in the Canyon de Chelly and one of the best-preserved Anasazi settlements is located a further 160 kilometers to the east in the "Mesa Verde National Park". It was Pueblo "Indians" who lived here long before the nomadic Navajos.

The reservation of the Navajos is the largest in the USA: It extends over the three states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and covers over 65,000 square kilometers. Since 1989, the Navajos have had their own system of separation of powers, which corresponds to that of Western democracies.

In contrast to the other indigenous people of North America, the Navajos do not traditionally live in villages, but rather in small groups. This is mainly due to the natural foundations of life: In the land of the Navajo there is little pasture land and little water.

What made the Navajo reservation famous is above all the landscape: Monument Valley, a plateau with mighty table mountains and unique red sandstone formations, is very popular with tourists, the film and advertising industries.

The Canyon de Chelly with its walls several hundred meters high, rock needles and the millennia-old remains of settlements and rock carvings from the Anasazi culture also attracts crowds of visitors every year. The marketing gives the Navajo a source of income that the tribe urgently needs, because the unemployment rate and poverty in the reservation are high.

Like many of the other natives of North America, the Navajos also place great importance on family. However, the social structure is different from most other tribes: With the Navajos, the mothers have the most important position. They own most of the family's possessions; in the event of separation, the mother takes children and property with her. The Hopi in northeast Arizona also live in such a matriarchal society.


The culturally interesting villages of the few thousand Hopi are less easily accessible for the visitor. Often, those passing through are denied access to the old settlements of the traditional arable farmers. The Hopi live in only twelve villages on three mesas (table mountains) in the middle of the Navajo region.

In the 1970s, the Hopis turned away strangers out of self-defense. Because first the hippie movement looked for spiritual enlightenment with them, then unchecked tourist flows confused the traditional life in the Hopi villages with open-air museums. Reason enough for the shy tribe to distrust the uninvited guests.

Those who have the time and interest can now visit more remote Hopi settlements after making contact by phone, whereby behavior is assumed that respects the traditional Hopi attitude towards life.

On the Second Mesa is the Hopi cultural center with extensive information on the history and culture of the tribe. The small town of Oraibi on Third Mesa is an insider tip. It has been continuously inhabited since 1150, making it the oldest permanently inhabited place in the United States.

First the tribe, then America

The Navajo and Hopi are among the tribes that do not benefit from casino operations or other special rights like others. Both live at the intersection of the US states Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in an inhospitable, desert-shaped area.

As arable farmers, the Hopi have been populating the area's table mountains for many centuries. The Navajo invaded the Hopi area as nomads about 300 years ago and have been settling around the Canyon de Chelly since then, legitimized by the US government.

The conflict between Hopi and Navajo continues to this day, because the remote location has kept the traditions of both tribes alive, but also the differences. Anyone who grows up in such a reservation is initially a Hopi or Navajo and only secondarily an American. Tribal affiliation is more important than family ties.

Religious and ceremonial habits often play a formative role throughout life. In addition, especially in remote reserves, there is the shared disadvantage due to inadequate infrastructure, a lack of jobs and poor educational opportunities.

For many indigenous people, only the distant metropolises or the army offer opportunities for change. They leave the reservations for a life in white America without giving up their roots. No opportunity is missed to maintain tribal traditions - not out of nostalgia, but out of conviction.

Handicrafts and souvenirs

In the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley region, many Navajo and Hopi make their living from selling handicrafts. Jewelry made of sterling silver with turquoise stones is very popular; However, the tradition of silversmiths in the two tribes is not really old, but began around the middle of the 19th century.

The origin of the jewelry is easy to determine: every jewelry designer should have a so-called stamp book, in which the stamp number of the piece of jewelry can be read and assigned to the trunk.

Indeed traditional are the Navajo ceramics, the wicker wedding baskets and the woven Navajo carpets with their eye-catching patterns. The artistically carved Hopi kachina dolls, which represent the spirits of nature and ancestors, are also famous. They were made for children, and many old Kachina dolls have become coveted collector's items.

The so-called "dream catchers" - a weave in a willow hoop, decorated with feathers that are supposed to keep bad dreams away and improve sleep - are very common and popular as inexpensive souvenirs. Its origin can no longer be determined with certainty; presumably they come from the tradition of the Ojibwe tribe in the USA and Canada. In the 1960s and 1970s, the dream catchers were then also made and sold by other tribes.

The pow-wow movement

Although the differences between the more than 550 North American tribes are often much clearer than the similarities - outside of English, for example, there is hardly any means of communication due to the infinite variety of languages ​​- a new sense of togetherness has recently developed among the indigenous peoples. This becomes particularly clear in the case of traditions and rituals, such as those cultivated at the big "Pow-Wow" events all over the USA.

Pow-wows were originally prairie indigenous dance festivals. Today even those tribes develop their own Pow-Wow traditions in which such dance festivals traditionally played no role. Pow-wows have become a cultural meeting point for Native Americans, and there the minority suddenly becomes the majority.

Even if Pow-Wows are above all an entertaining meeting of all indigenous people, their friends and supporters, they still have a wider meaning, because music is the expanded form of the spoken language.

In the many-hour Pow-Wows, there is not only dancing, but the chants presented serve to praise and criticize tribal members, they accompany ceremonies and rituals, they contain information for the community or are intended to enable contact with the spirits. Pow-wow music connects the most diverse cultural aspects and brings together within and beyond the tribes.