“Yá’át’ééh.” Welcome to the Navajo Nation, a Native American territory that lies in northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Covering over 27,000 square miles with a population of over 300,000, the Navajo Nation is the largest area retained by any federally recognized tribe. When touring the Navajo Nation, you can travel back in time to see how the Anasazi people (or Ancient Ones) lived thousands of years ago. Well-known landmarks of the Navajo Nation include Window Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and 186 miles of Lake Powell shoreline. This area attracts thousands of visitors every year and it’s important to remember that the Navajo have some cultural and social etiquettes that are useful for non-natives to know before visiting the Navajo Nation. DETOURS guide and native of Na’ahtee Canyon Donovan Hanley offers some of his advice for visiting his homeland:
Visitors are welcomed with open arms in Navajoland, but Navajo greetings and social interactions are a bit different than what non-natives are used to. Overall, Navajos value personal space and have a larger area of personal distance than non-natives. They use very little eye contact and generally do not hug when greeting someone new. Don’t forget, just like people in your hometown or community, the Navajo people like to be treated with respect. Once they get to know you, the Navajo are warm, inviting people who enjoy living in harmony with visitors.
Jewelry and Hair are Sacred
The recognition of personal space includes clothes, hair, and jewelry when touring the Navajo Nation. Non-natives are accustomed to touching a piece of jewelry or long hair in admiration but the Navajo would prefer a compliment in words, not in touch. In fact, it’s considered a violation of that personal space to touch a Navajo’s hair. Often times jewelry worn by the Navajo is breakable, can easily detach, or is being worn for ceremonial purposes. If you are so compelled to feel a piece of clothing or item of jewelry, it’s ok to ask although the invitation may not be accepted.
Dances and Other Customs are Ceremonial
Dances like the Enemy Way Dance, Yeibicheii Dance and others are mostly held for Navajos by Navajos and are not open to the public. Pow-wows and dances are often governed by the seasons and are sometimes exhibited for the benefit of the tourists in public forums. Many of these events are of a religious nature, and should be accorded the same deference as a church or prayer service, even if tribal members behave informally. Please do not ask ‘to see’ a certain dance, and refrain from applauding unless obviously apparent. There are many Navajo fairs, festivals and parades that are open to the public and are great for non-natives to attend to learn about the Navajo culture.
Remember to be conscious of taking photographs on the Navajo Nation. A good rule of thumb is do not take photos without asking unless it is a public event. Special permits are required when photographing for commercial use.
Go With An Open Mind
Experiencing any new culture is a time to be present. The Navajo strive to live in harmony with Mother Earth, Father Sky and the many other elements such as man, animals, plants, and insects. Visiting the Navajo Nation is a great time to turn off those iPhones and Androids and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of your every day life. Immerse yourself in the Navajo culture and soak in every moment of new adventure.
“Ahéhee'” (Thank you, in Navajo). For more information about the Navajo Nation, we invite you the Navajo Tourism Department’s website. Many times navigation and/or Google Maps are unreliable so we strongly recommend visiting the Navajo Nation with a tour guide that knows the area intimately.