For many Americans, the word Navajo conjures up images of the World War II code talkers who used their unique language to encrypt secret radio messages sent to the front lines.
Here’s what many don’t know. It’s the most populous Native American tribe in the United States. Its reservation encompasses 27,000 square miles in three states. If the Nation had statehood, it would be larger than West Virginia.
Widespread poverty, rampant unemployment, low graduation rates and debilitating diseases like Type 2 diabetes are among the chief concerns of the Navajo. Obesity and alcoholism plague the area. Running water and electricity are a luxury.
Earlier this year, the nation received a $554 million settlement from the U.S. government for the country’s misappropriation of Nation funds and natural resources. How that settlement will be spent is far from being decided. No decisions are expected until a contentious election for leadership of the Nation is held next year.
Yet many say the money will do little to solve the nation’s ills.
The nation’s full-blooded population, according to recent U.S. Census data, is 286,000, with 87 percent of those still living on the land. Promising strides have been made in the fields of health care, education and infrastructure over the past 50 years, but many issues remain.