[graphic] National American Indian Heritage Month, National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service[graphic] N P S arrowhead, a link to the N P S website

[graphic] November 2004


[photo]
Historic view of Navajo Nation Council Chamber
Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation Museum, Window Rock, AZ, from National Historic Landmark collection

The Navajo Nation Council Chamber, located in Window Rock, Arizona, is the single-most significant building in the United States symbolizing the New Deal revolution in federal Indian policy. It was designed and built to stand in declaration of economic and cultural self-determination as afforded to American Indians by John Collier's Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The act sought to replace old policies of detribalization, severalty and assimilation with new policies that advocated the reconstitution of tribal organization, the restoration of a tribal land base and the promotion of traditional Indian culture.

[photo]
Detail views of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber
Photos from National Historic Landmark collection

In its design and decoration, the Council Chamber was to assert recognition of the unique Navajo cultural contribution to mainstream America, as well as to stimulate pride among Navajos in their own heritage. It was the centerpiece of an ambitious Public Works Administration (PWA) construction program aimed at improving the quality of life on Indian reservations across the country. In both form and function, it was the most remarkable of the Indian New Deal buildings.

With its rusticated red sandstone façade and overall “rustic” architectural style, the chamber was designed to harmonize with its spectacular natural surroundings. Built from 1934 to 1935, the chamber’s octagon shape and structural framework are meant to evoke a monumental hogan, the traditional building form of the Navajo people. Additionally, the building incorporates the Navajo ceremonial features of an east-facing main entrance and a windowless north wall. A mural cycle depicting “The History and Progress of the Navajo Nation” by Navajo artist Gerald Nailor decorates the interior.


[photo]
Plaque commemorating the National Historic Landmark designation of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber, inscribed in English and Navajo.
Photo courtesy of Mary Padilla, Intermountain Region, NPS

By combining “modern inventions for comfort with ancient fundamental solidarities,” as the Office of Indian Affairs proclaimed on the eve of the building’s construction in 1934, the Council Chamber was to stand as “a tangible symbol of modern Indian tribal self-government.” Today it is the spiritual home of the Navajo political process, embodying the development, growth, and maturity of the Navajo government since it first began using the building in 1936. The Council Chamber is the only legislative headquarters in the United States owned by a American Indian tribe which has been continuously in use by that tribe and whose design incorporates indigenous materials and architectural traditions tied to the Navajo heritage. The Navajo Nation Council Chamber was designated a National Historic Landmark on June 16, 2004.

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