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The Navajo are the best-known of the Native American peoples of Arizona

Jones Benally, a medicine man, in a Navajo ceremony near Flagstaff
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There are 22 Native American tribes still living in Arizona, including names you may be familiar with, like the Hopi and the Mohave, and others you will become familiar with, like the Havasupai, who have lived near the Grand Canyon for over 800 years. The Chiricahua people are a branch of the Apache nation and share their name with the Chiricahua Mountains in Southern Arizona, which were the last refuge of Apache chiefs Geronimo and Cochise in their battle against the incursions of the white man.

 

The name you will see most often though is that of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo are the largest tribe in the United States and some of Arizona's major landmarks, such as Monument Valley and the Canyon de Chelly, are actually on Navajo land. The Navajo Nation is an independent body which governs the Navajo land in the area of the south-west known as the Four Corners region, where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico all meet. One peculiarity of this is that although Arizona is exempt from Daylight Saving Time, when clocks are adjusted in spring and fall, the Navajo Nation observes the change. So for six months of the year there is an hour's time difference between Arizona and the Navajo Nation.

 

Visiting Monument Valley or the Canyon de Chelly means you will combine seeing some of Arizona's most spectacular scenery with a chance to learn about the history and culture of the Navajo people. If you want to visit the floor of the Canyon de Chelly you must go with either a park ranger or a Navajo guide, which you can hire in the Visitor Center. South of the Canyon de Chelly at Window Rock, near the New Mexico border, you'll find the Navajo Nation Museum, which has excellent exhibitions by Native artists as well as its permanent displays.

 

In Monument Valley you can drive your own vehicle, although it is far more interesting to hire a Navajo guide in the Visitor Center, or join one of the jeep or horseback tours that you can arrange at the center. Be sure to visit the Navajo National Monument, west of Kayenta as you drive to Monument Valley. These are the largest ancient dwellings in Arizona.

 

There are other Native American areas you can easily visit, though. Around Tuba City to the north of Flagstaff is a large Navajo Reservation, within which is a Hopi Reservation, so you can learn about the two cultures side by side. You'll find the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum here, and the Navajo Code Talkers Memorial Museum. This tells the fascinating story of the unbreakable code that was based on the Navajo language and created during World War II.

 

If you want some background to Navajo life today, read some of the crime novels by Tony Hillerman. His books are set in the Four Corners area, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico, and as an author he was well respected by the Navajo people for portraying their culture accurately and fairly.