Navajo Indians in Utah reside on a reservation of more than 1,155,000
acres in the southeastern corner of the state. According to the 1990
census, more than half of the population of San Juan County is comprised
of Navajo people, the majority of whom live south of the San Juan River.
still debate when the Navajo entered the Southwest. Some argue that
by the fourteenth century, the Dine, or the People, were migrating into
the Four Corners region as the Anasazi departed. Navajo lore is replete
with stories of interaction between the two native groups. Most anthropologists
agree that by the end of the 1500s the Dine were spread throughout northern
New Mexico, a portion of southern Utah, and part of northern Arizona.
They also concur that the Navajos migrated from northern Canada with
other Apachean peoples, who are linguistically related to Athapaskan
speakers. Studies suggest the separation between northern groups and
those migrating south occurred around A.D. 1000, and that the division
between Apaches and Navajos happened about three to four hundred years
ago. However, these are only rough estimates and often vary widely.
beliefs reject these ideas, saying that there is no evidence in their
oral tradition of this movement. Instead, their religion teaches that
they traveled through three or four worlds beneath this one and emerged
into this sphere in the La Plata mountains of southwestern Colorado
or the Navajo Dam area of northwestern New Mexico. The gods created
the four sacred mountains--Blanca Peak and Hesperus Peak in Colorado,
Mount Taylor in New Mexico, and the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona--preparing
them as supernatural boundaries within which all was safe and protected.
In addition, the gods also established four rivers, one of which was
the San Juan, to serve as defensive guardians. This river played an
important role in some of the Navajo chantway myths and functioned as
a clear line of demarcation between Navajo and Ute territories.