Tribes of the Southwest

Native Americans of the Southwest

Native Americans of the Southwest have their unique cultures, ideas and beginnings. Over the years their numbers have dwindled with the more well-known modern-day Native American tribes of the Southwest including Navajo, Apache, Hopi, and Zuni Indians to name a few. Some smaller tribes include the Havasupai in Arizona, the Ute Indians in Colorado and New Mexico, the Toho'no-o-otam in California, Arizona and Mexico. Below is an in-depth look into several Native American tribes of the Southwest.


One of the more familiar Native American tribes of the Southwest is the Navajo tribe. This is probably largely due to the fact that the Navajo are the largest Indian tribe in the United States and live on the largest reservation in the U.S., which covers the four corners area of the southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and part of Colorado. While the Navajo share a language with the Apache—Athapascan—they are not part of the Apache Nation. The Spanish gave the Navajo name to them but they identify themselves as Dine, which translated means "the people."

According to American Indian history, the Navajo tribes migration from the north can be dated back to 1025 A.D. Feared by other Indians, the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers, the Navajo earned their reputation by raiding other cultures for food, property, women and slaves.

Over time, the tribe learned to farm, mold pottery and develop new basket-weaving techniques. Art served as a bridge between the natural and supernatural worlds and a way to relate to spirit beings.


The Apache tribe ranged over eastern Arizona, northern Mexico, New Mexico, west and southwest Texas and southern Colorado. Translated, the Apache Indian name means "enemy," however they refer to themselves N'de, Tinde, and Inde meaning "people."

Evidence of Apache bands arriving to the southwest can be dated to 825 A.D. In the past, Apache Indians were a very powerful people and considered to be fierce warriors and skilled tacticians. Their food was acquired through hunting and gathering and later growing domestic plants and trading or raiding other cultures.


The Hope tribe is another well-known Native American tribe of the Southwest. The Hopi name when translated means "peaceful ones" and in their own language they call themselves Hópitu-shínumu, which means "the peaceful people."

Now settled in northeastern Arizona, surrounded by the Navajo reservation, the Hopi are known as Pueblo Indians who most likely descended from the Anasazi. One village, Oraibi, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the United States.

Mainly horticultural people, the Hopi would supplement their diet with hunting a gathering when necessary. Hopi are known for their basket-weaving skills and their methods have not changed in hundreds of years.


Archaeology suggests that the Zuni have been farmers in their present location for 3,000 to 4,000 years. Irrigation agriculture in riverine environments in Zuni began about 3,000 years ago. More recently, Zuni culture seems related to both the Mogollon and Ancestral Pueblo peoples cultures, who lived in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southern Colorado for over two millennia. The "village of the great kiva" near the contemporary Zuni Pueblo was built in the 11th century CE. The Zuni region, however, was probably only sparsely populated by small agricultural settlements until the 12th century when the population and the size of the settlements began to increase. In the 14th century, the Zuni inhabited a dozen pueblos between 180 to 1,400 rooms in size. All of these pueblos, except Zuni, were abandoned by 1400, and over the next 200 years, nine large new pueblos were constructed. These were the "seven cities of Cibola" sought by early Spanish explorers. By 1650, there were only six Zuni villages

In 1539, Moorish slave Estevanico led an advance party of Fray Marcos de Niza's Spanish expedition. The Zuni killed him as a spy. This was Spain's first contact with any of the Pueblo peoples. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado traveled through Zuni Pueblo. Spaniards built a mission at Hawikuh in 1629. The Zunis tried to expel the missionaries in 1632, but Spanish built another mission in Halona in 1643.

Before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Zuni lived in six different villages. After the revolt, until 1692, they took refuge in a defensible position atop Dowa Yalanne, a steep mesa 5 km (3.1 miles) southeast of the present Pueblo of Zuni; Dowa means "corn", and yalanne means "mountain". After the establishment of peace and the return of the Spanish, the Zuni relocated to their present location, only briefly returning to the mesa top in 1703.[8]

The Zunis were self-sufficient during the mid-19th century, but faced raiding by the Apaches, Navajos, and Plains Indians. Their reservation was officially recognized by the United States federal government in 1877. Gradually the Zuni farmed less and turned to sheep and cattle herding as a means of economic development.

Frank Hamilton Cushing, a pioneering anthropologist associated with the Smithsonian Institution, lived with the Zuni from 1879 to 1884. He was one of the first participant observers and an ethnologist.

A controversy during the early 2000s was associated with Zuni opposition to the development of a coal mine near the Zuni Salt Lake, a site considered sacred by the Zuni and under Zuni control. The mine would have extracted water from the aquifer below the lake and would also have involved construction between the lake and the Zuni. The plan died in 2003 after several lawsuits.