Some Navajos want tribe name changed to reflect their history

December 14, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The Navajo Nation, one of the largest Indian tribes in the United States, is considering changing its name to one that better reflects its cultural roots.

TC negative stereotype of them as "aggressive, war-like figures."

"We're not like that," said Mr. Norsgod. "We're a gentle people who just want to be known for what we are."

Carl Shaw, a spokesman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, said that while Navajos have discussed a name change in the past, this is the first time the idea is being taken seriously.

To change its name, the Navajo Nation would have to revise its tribal code. No action is needed by the U.S. government.

Mr. Norsgod said some Navajos do not favor the name change.

One tribal member in New Mexico and her followers refuse to endorse the name change because they insist that "Dine" refers to man.

Other Indians around the country say "Dine" is a universal Native American term and should not be held by one tribe.

Still others say a new term, "Dine," will result in a loss of identity for the Navajos, who are among the most recognized tribes.

Navajo leaders and members will air their concerns later this week in public hearings in New Mexico. A decision could take several years.

"But I think it's something that will come," said Mr. Norsgod. "The reasoning for it [is] that the new name has meaning in our search for sovereignty and self-determination."

The Navajos' proposed name change comes as their nation has suffered from a depressed economy and a mystery illness that killed 13 people, most with ties to the reservation. Health officials later linked the illness to disease-carrying rodents.

The Navajos are spread over more than 17 million acres in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Fifty-six percent of the Navajos live below the federal poverty level.

Mr. Norsgod said many Navajos believe that a new name that better depicts their religious and spiritual beliefs will ultimately help guide the tribe to prosperity.

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