On Monday we had a guest post which talked about population statistics and about traditional values regarding families in Navajoland.

Like most places in the United States, what was traditional 50 or 100 years ago has seen significant changes with the advent of television, computer, and exposure to the wider culture. Dependence on aid from outsiders and from the government has also tended to weaken traditional family values.

The following comments are based on our personal experience of living and working in Navajoland, not on any formal or academic studies. We had exposure to a variety of families through our work in the public school. We also developed friendships with a number of Navajo individuals and families.

One piece of traditional Navajo culture is still strong: self-identity is based on the maternal line. The mother’s clan is the most important and the first one listed when talking about one’s clans. The mother’s sisters are called the “little mother” and are considered as close as one’s own mother. The mother’s brothers are still often more important that the child’s actual father.

3 Generations of Navajo Women

3 Generations of Navajo Women

Unfortunately with the high prevalence of both alcohol and teen pregnancy, nowadays children are most often raised by single mothers. Sometimes there is a “revolving door” of men who come and go from the family home, giving short-term companionship to the mother and holding temporary step-father status. Most often, with a single mom, the children are partially (or entirely) raised by the mother’s parents. It seems that by the time they become grandparents (often in their 30s) friends we know finally stopped partying and took child-raising (for their grandchildren) seriously.

Some of the families we know have only 1 or at most 2 children. But other families have 4-6 children. In many cases, the larger families have parents that are still together.

Another difference between Navajo culture and mainstream American culture is the different focus on “family.” In the Lybrook area, most people we know live in a “camp” with extended family members. Some might see it as a contradiction that there is a single-minded focus on “my family” to the exclusion of anyone else outside of that family. At the same time, “my family” includes a much wider range of relatives than in Anglo culture. It might well number in the hundreds! This can, at times, become a drain on resources when someone is pressured to help their “family” regardless of the cost to themselves or their immediate family.

The Groom's Immediate Family at a Wedding (Summer 2012)

The Groom’s Immediate Family at a Wedding (Summer 2012)

In a future post I will talk about the changing roles of women in the culture. With their focus on the women being the ones to hold the society together, these changing roles have wide-spread impact on Navajo society today.

Advertisements