Navajo Culture

Spring 2014


Experimental Seminar

“Through Navajo Lives: Tradition and Change in the Navajo World”


An examination of late 19th century-Contemporary Navajo culture and society through biography and life-history; post-“Long Walk” Navajo biographies, emphasizing the roles of traditional specialists, including medicine men and women, artists, weavers, and others; personal life-history and the measurement of cultural and social change; emphasis on the use of the “inner voice” of Navajo themselves, rather than outside writers and scholars, in defining the key and enduring elements of the Navajo world.

Expected Preparation for Enrollment

This course is designed for Native American Studies students and for cultural anthropology students with at least one or two courses in the field beyond Anthropology 100.  You should know by now, virtually instinctively, the distinction between Culture and Society, and be competently familiar with the concepts of Descent Systems, Culture Areas, and Subsistence Systems.  If not your enrollment in this course may be inappropriate.


Grades are based on class contribution (50%) and assigned reviews for class texts (50%).            Attendance is expected to be 100%.


Walter Dyk and Left Handed.  Son of Old Man Hat: A Navaho Autobiography                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 John Holiday and Robert McPherson.  A Navajo Legacy: The Life and Teachings of John Holiday                                   Oliver LaFarge.  Laughing Boy: A Navajo Love Story                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Franc Johnson Newcomb.  Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter                                                                                                             Gladys Reichard.  Spider Woman: A Story of Navajo Weavers and Chanters

FINAL EXAM: Wednesday, May 14, 3:30-6:30 PM

Office Hours

T/Th 11:30-1:00 and 3:45; Wed by appt only                                                                                                 Sturges 15 // phone x5433 // // preferred


Texts and Course Outline


Introductory Concepts                                                                                                                                                  Jan 21, 23

Navajo: HRAF World Ethnographic Sample

Southwest Culture Area contextualization

Historical contexts and change in American Southwest

Social change & cultural continuity



1929. Laughing Boy.  Oliver LaFarge.                                                                                                                  Jan 28-Feb 6

Novel: [Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1930]                                      

Rationale: Landscapes; overview; historical settings; social & cultural change; story-telling; large-scale events portrayed thru stories and biographies of individuals; ethnography through fiction

Bio of Oliver LaFarge:

                  Era: Turn-of-the-Century ->1920s                                 Locale: generalized Navajo Reservation

                  Topics: Traditional Navajo life and its landscapes and settings; social and cultural change;

acculturation; male and female roles (traditional vs. acculturative); values; life-style

                  Method: Ethnographic Fiction, based on extensive ethnographic knowledge

                                    Cf. more SW Ethnographic Fiction, see: Adolph Bandelier, The Delight Makers (1890)

(pre-Contact Pueblo & Navajo - masterful work); Gladys Reichard, Dezba (1939) (Navajo)




1938.  Son of Old Man Hat.  Walter Dyk & Left Handed.                                                                                           Feb 11-25

Ethnographic, “autobiographical narrative”

Bio of Dyk  [linguist trained by Edward Sapir]

Era: 1880s            Locale: NE Arizona and SE Utah (Navajo Mountain, San Juan River, Monument Valley,  Ganado, Kayenta, Keams Canyon)

Topics: Life history; male childhood and adolescence in traditional (immediately post-Long Walk)

Navajo Culture; household, family, clan, kinship; pastoralism; values; male world-view

Method: Ethnography; memory-based life history/autobiography, centering on narrator’s (Left

Handed’s) personal recollections; includes household of his clan father (Old Man Hat) –

in which he grew up - over two decades (ca. late 1860s thru late 1880s)



1934.  Spider Woman : A Story Of Navajo Weavers And Chanters.  Gladys Reichard.        Feb 27-Mar 13

Ethnography; personal diary, journal; ethnographic photography by Reichard’s sister

                  Bio of Gladys Reichard:

Era: 1930s                     Locale: NE Arizona and SE Utah (Hubbell Trading Post, Monument Valley)

Topics: Traditional Navajo culture and values; women’s and children’s lives and roles; housing

and “outfit” settlement patterns and life; family patterns and interactions; local travel;

 cooking, food, water; weaving “culture;” sheep herding; trading posts; medicine sings;

female world-view (at various life stages)

Method: Journal style record and recounting of participant observation while living with a

                  Navajo family and learning to weave from women in the household.  Frequent

description of self in Navajo family/household, weaving, and ceremonial contexts.



1964.  Hosteen Klah : Navaho Medicine Man & Sand Painter.  Franc Johnson Newcomb.     Mar 25-Apr 10                                                                                                                     University of Oklahoma Press, Civilization of the American Indian Series, Volume #73


Franc Johnson Newcomb.  Biography

                  Bio of Hosteen Klah (1867-1937)

                  Bio of Franc Newcomb:

                  Era: 1920s and 1930s    Locale: NM south of Shiprock; southwest of Farmington

                  Topics: Life history; weaving; medicine chants; gender; trading posts

                  Method: Observer’s recounting of life incidents



2005.  A Navajo Legacy : The Life And Teachings Of John Holiday.  John Holiday & Robert S. McPherson.  Biography                                                                                                                                                                             Apr 15-May 6

University of Oklahoma Press, Civilization of the American Indian Series, Volume #251

                  Bio of John Holiday: (b. 1919)

                  Bio of Robert S. McPherson

                  Era:  1919-2011                                                                        Locale: UT Monument Valley

Topics: Traditional Navajo religion; medicine and role of medicine man; teachings and education of a medicine man; family life; traditional family and pastoral economics; social and cultural change evident in the century (three generations) of Holiday’s life

Method: autobiography initiated by subject; interviews and translation largely handled by Navajo, including relatives