The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States, situated within the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Chinle/Canyon De Chelly sits in the center of it. Locals like to say that we are the heart of the Reservation.
As of 2011, the Navajo Nation Census showed that there are 300,048 registered Navajo’s in the USA. The Reservation is a little more than 27,000 square miles making it a bigger land area than 10 States.(West Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.)
Median income is about $20,000 calculated to include Government welfare programs. Unemployment of the workforce aged population is 58%.
Slightly more than half of all adult Navajos (56%) have a high school diploma and about 7% have a college degree.
There are around 300 police officers for this sparsely populated, spread out land with her indigenous people. That’s about 1 officer per 1000 people. Contrast that to the 3.5 officers/1000 most small towns enjoy and the 1.6 officers/1000 that larger cities are able to deploy and you will realize that the Navajo Police are busy all the time.
The Rez – the word that Navajo’s lovingly use to refer to their Reservation – has something for most everyone from the sunbaked high mountain desert of Chinle and Monument Valley to the mountain forests of Tsaile, Wheatfields, Lukachukai and the Kaibab Plateau, the Rez has a little something for everyone except those who like to mow grass… I’ve never – never – had to mow grass here on the Rez.
Like to fish and hunt? Paradise.
Like to four-wheel? Plenty of space.
Like to camp? Get lost easily.
Shooting range? Turkey shoots? We have ’em.
Bingo? There are Bingo games pretty much every week. Some Navajo families make a living from Bingo.
Like Walmart? Ummmm… Chinle is 102 miles from the nearest Walmart. We are 67 Miles from the nearest McDonalds. Shopping on the Rez is never convenient. The nearest Mall of any size is two and a half hours away. Fortunately, most people like to get “off-Rez” once in a while so a mall or big box store is the perfect excuse for a two or three hour one-way drive.
What about schools? How are the schools on the Navajo Reservation?
Truthfully, they are pretty good when compared to other Reservation schools. There are no dilapidated buildings, they have great sports complexes and a teacher mix that is growing in the number of Navajo teachers that are teaching the kids. Chinle is home to the largest Native American High School in the United States.
Academically, the schools are still struggling. Parental involvement for many kids is negligible, teachers have larger classes than they’d like, reading is often not a priority in the home, so learning is often more difficult as the kids progress through grade levels.
Many of the Doctors and Nurses who work in the Indian Health Service – the Native hospitals and clinics – home-school their children. Chinle has a very active home-school co-op. There are a few religious private schools on the Rez, too.
What I’ve witnessed over the years is that students and parents get what they put into their kid’s schooling. If you are active and involved as a parent, your kid will get a decent education. If your child puts in the work and the effort, the teachers – both Navajo and non-Indian – will pour themselves into your son or daughter.
Children are taught Navajo in the Rez public schools. They get a dose of Navajo Culture and will be exposed to many of the facets of Navajo Tradition. In many homes this is a disappearing culture.
Night life is practically non-existent unless gazing up into a perfectly black night-time sky and being able to see virtually every star within eye-shot is your idea of night life. There simply aren’t many things to do after nine PM and I’m being generous when I say nine, because I’m counting grocery shopping or laundry as “something to do.”
Every town has a flea market and one particular day that is “their” day. Chinle’s is on Friday. Vendors often travel from one town to the next to sell their no-longer-wanted DVDs, clothes and other household items.
The flea markets are also one of the ways that Navajos become entrepreneurs. Many find a niche item, like laundry detergent, sunglasses and knives, that are wanted by the local population and that becomes their business.
Off-Rez vendors also show up at these flea markets and the bigger flea markets, like Chinle’s, turn into a kind of outdoor mall or market where you can buy tools, saddles, boots, tires and grab some great home-cooked meals as well.
You can expect local Navajo’s to be friendly, but somewhat reserved until they get to know you, then you will likely have a friend for life.
Some of our video training will let you hear from local Navajo’s and how they perceive visitors, mission teams and tourist when they visit their nation.