The Southwest Native Americans
(content by Magdalena Antonczyk | design by Janett Jaschke)

There were two groups of Native Americans in the southwest region. The Pueblo, Hopi and Zuni were descended from the Anasazi culture of 1,700 years ago. The Navajo and Apache came down from the north later.
The Anasazi have been called "the cliff dwellers". They built their homes high on the side of cliffs to protect themselves from the enemy. Long ladders reached the homes, and when they saw someone coming, they would pull them up or kick them down. The later pueblos were like the cliff houses.
The Navajo and the Apache came into the area later. They were used to moving around to find food, but food in the desert is hard to find. They learned how to be farmers from the Pueblo people. The Navajo call themselves the Diné. It means "people" in the Navajo language. The Navajo are now the southwest's largest tribe.

In the northern region of the southwest are tall mountains and deep canyons where rivers flow. The Grand Canyon is in this region. Forests of pine, juniper and piñon grow on the mountains in the middle of the region. The south is mostly desert with sagebruch and cacti. The days can be very hot and the nights very cold because the air is dry. There is not much rain. In parts of Arizona and New Mexico it rains less than ten inches a year.

Some people who lived in the desert southwest lived in hogans. The Navajo tribe in New Mexico and Arizona built hogans. Hogans have six sides built from wood poles and adobe (mud). There was one room in the hogan and the doorway faced to the east. Beautiful Navajo rugs covered the doorway. There was a hole in the roof so smoke from the fires could escape.
Others lived in pueblo homes. Each home has a flat roof and is built next to or on top of it's neighbour. They are made of adobe, a mixture of clay and sand that is found in the southwest. Families slept on rugs or animal skins. The word "pueblo" is not a native word. It means town in Spanish. "Pueblo" is used for both the houses and the people who live in them. Other Native Americans that live in pueblos are the Hopi and the Zuni. Below is a picture that shows a ceremony in the middle of a Zuni pueblo. Today, some Native Americans still live in pueblos.
The most important foods for the southwest people were corn, beans, pumpkins and squash. The native Americans of the southwest, especially the Pueblo people, were farmers.
Corn was the most important crop for the southwest people. They ground it into corn meal and baked it in ovens like this one in a pueblo.
It was dried and stored for times of drought when there was no rain. The pueblo people made pottery to store the dried food in.

You have learned that it is very dry in the desert. Rain was very important to the people of the southwest. In their ceremonies, they would perform rain dances in the hope that more rain would come.


Long haired sheep and goats were introduced to the people of the southwest by the Spainish settlers about 500 years ago. These animals are very important because their wool provides the fiber which the people use to weave beautiful blankets and rugs.

Horses were also introduced to the area by the Spanish settlers. Horses enabled the Navajo to control large herds of sheep and goats.

The Southwest people dressed in clothes made from the hide of sheep or spun from the wool. In hot weather, men wore loincloths (a loincloth is two pieces of cloth or animal skin, front and back, tied at the waist). When it got colder, especially in the northern part of the region, they added wool shirts, leggings, and moccasins (shoes made from animal skin, or woven plant fiber). The women wore a dresses, aprons and leggings woven of wool. Both men and women wore jewelry of beads, feathers and silver. The southwest people became good silversmiths.

Below is a painting of what Hopi daily life might have been like. The young women on the left are grinding corn. The hair style of these girls with the hair gathered on each side in a circle indicates that they are not married. The man on the right is holding an arrow. On his back is a quiver that holds more arrows. He is wearing a loincloth which is strips of fabric or animal skin held at the waist with a strap.

The Southwest people practice many arts. They are excellent silversmiths, pottery makers and weavers. They sell their art to people all over the world.
This is a portrait of a Navajo silversmith. He is displaying some of his work and the tools that he uses. The Navajo first learned to make things from silver around 1880 from Mexican silversmiths. Silver coins were melted down to make the jewelry.
The Navajo people are known for their skill at weaving. They are also very famous for their pottery. Here is another picture of women making pots. Because the pots were useful, they were not thought of as an art until about 50 years ago.

Indian pottery

The Southwest Indians believed in many gods. The Hopi used Kachinas to talk to their gods. Kachinas were Hopi spirits or gods which lived within the mountains. Hopi dancers would dress like Kachinas to represent, or stand for, the gods. Wooden Kachina dolls were made to teach the children about the gods. The Hopi believed the Kachina costume gave magic power to the man who wore it. They felt a man needed magic to talk to the gods. Hopi Kachinas talked to the gods by singing and dancing. The Kachinas danced and sang for rain. They did their dances over and over. Sometimes the gods did not seem to hear the Kachinas, and it would not rain for weeks. At other times the gods seemed to hear the Kachinas right away, for it would rain and rain.