Navajo, or Diné, culture is based on harmony and community. Each individual has a role and responsibilities within the culture. Medicine men, leadership, men and women each have a place in the larger whole of Navajo life. Each role within a community serves both practical and cultural purposes. In modern society, many traditional Navajo roles are still intact, blending with modern views without sacrificing traditional beliefs.
The Medicine Man
For as long as Navajo history remembers, the medicine man has been a role of honor and significance. Not only does a medicine man perform healing ceremonies, he also serves as historian. During the healing process and subsequent ceremonies, the medicine man imparts his knowledge of Navajo histories, traditions, stories and beliefs to both the patient and his family. In Navajo culture, a medicine man is the holder of truth and an integral part of life, tradition, wellness and harmony with the earth.
As is true of many Native American cultures, Navajo clans rely on chiefs and elders to provide leadership. Unlike other cultures, Navajo clans historically selected two chiefs: one for domestic leadership and one for war. Chiefs were elected from among families the community felt most honorable, traditional and respectable. In modern Navajo society, the Navajo Nation has its own government and legislative bodies headed by a president and assisted by other elected political leaders. In its most basic form, modern Navajo leadership functions the same as traditional leadership, but with modern titles and responsibilities.
The Role of Men
Historically, Navajo men were hunters, warriors and community leaders. In traditional Navajo society, men made jewelry and weapons. In today's Navajo society, the role of men is modernized, much as with other cultures. Men now raise livestock and tend farms, a role traditionally reserved for women. Likewise, only men could serve as chief or councel members in traditional Navajo communities. However, today those roles are changing. In November 2010, the first female candidate for Navajo Nation president appeared on voting ballots.
The Role of Women
The role of women in Navajo society is largely unchanged in terms of goals and overriding beliefs. Traditionally, Navajo women tended livestock and crops, wove rugs, blankets and other crafts, cooked and provided childcare. In familial groups, females were assigned as role models for each pubescent female relative. Today's Navajo woman is still integral to maintaining family unity, imparting heritage and traditions to future generations, as well as serving as assigned role models. However, in today's Navajo Nation, women have careers, seek public office and compete with men for traditionally male-dominated roles in society.
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