The Navajo first migrated to the Southwest, especially toward the San Juan upper rivers, during the 15th century. The Navajo first encountered the Spaniards, who brought sheep and horses to support their nomadic lifestyle.
Westward Expansion and The Long Walk
As the Westward expansion continued in young America, treaties would be implemented between the United States government and the Navajo people. From the United States standpoint, it was up to the Navajo to oblige to the treaties. However, conflict continued to grow between the Navajo and the United States government. Thus the decision from the U.S. government was to gather all Navajo for a relocation, also known as The Long Walk.
The Treaty of 1868
At the time of the invasion, many Navajos were hiding in canyons such as Canyon de Chelly. Many refused to surrender, even when troops destroyed crops, burned villages and even killed families. Eventually they surrendered and were forced to trek more than 300 miles from the current Navajo Nation to Fort Sumner. After four terrible years at Fort Sumner there was a Peace Commission and the Treaty of 1868 allowed the Navajos to return to their land. The U.S. government gave the Navajos 27,000 square miles of land, which is now known as the Navajo Nation.
Navajo Code Talkers
During World War II, Navajo men were recruited into the U.S. Army for a war tactic known as the Navajo Code Talkers. The army utilized the Navajo and their language to devise a code used as a disguise against the Japanese. Initially, Navajos were not recognized for their efforts during World War II; however the Navajo Code Talkers were honored on September 17, 1992 at the Pentagon.
There is no official documentation of the birth of Christianity in Navajoland. However, it is known that initial contact was made between the years of 1869-1912 when the Catholics began mission work on Navajo land. Later there was the Protestants’ contact by the Presbyterians in 1869. The U.S. government utilized the church for teachers around Navajoland. Thus began the growth of missions, schools and churches in the Navajo Nation.
Between the years of 1912-1949 the Christian Reformed Church had 12 churches throughout Navajoland including: Crownpoint, Toadlena, Gallup and Shiprock. In turn the Presbyterians formed churches in Fort Defiance, Tuba City and Chinle. In 1917, the Episcopalians started a mission church at Fruitland, Carson and Shiprock. By 1943 the church had reached into Montezuma Creek, Utah. By the 1930s the American Baptists started their ministering at Keams Canyon.
In 1947 Navajo Missions founder, Jack Drake moved from Michigan to minister at the Navajo Methodist Mission School in Farmington, New Mexico. When Jack and his wife were approached by Navajo families for support, their words broke Jack’s heart.
In 1952, Jack resigned from Navajo Methodist Mission School to build a children’s home for needy and homeless Navajo children. When he applied for a $12,000 loan from the bank to purchase twelve acres of land, he was turned down. Instead, the president of the bank donated the money to Jack for this ministry.
In 1953, founder Jack Drake pitched a borrowed tent on the west edge of Farmington. Thus began Navajo Missions, a ministry designed to care for children from the Four Corners region who needed a secure place to call home until the situations in their natural home improved.
After 53 years of providing hope and restoration to families in the Four Corners Region, Navajo Missions has changed its name to a more accurate name, Navajo Ministries.
Today Christianity is alive and well in the Navajo Nation. We here at Navajo Ministries Inc. want to continue to serve the Navajo by providing a beacon of light and hope to those in need.