The Fundamental Laws: Codification for decolonization?

Lloyd Lance Lee


Indigenous knowledge has sustained Indigenous peoples for centuries. Despite the traumatizing and coercive impacts of European, and later American colonization, Indigenous peoples have been able to maintain many aspects of their cultural knowledge and ways of life.  In 2002, the Navajo Nation initiated a process through which they codified ethical standards their ancestors lived by since their emergence to Diné Bikéyah (Diné land). These ethical standards are known as the Fundamental Laws of the Diné.  Since its codification process, Diné people have interpreted these laws and principles in various ways reflecting the variety of contemporary tribal individuals, groups, and institutions and their interests. In this article, I discuss how the Fundamental Laws are understood and applied by the Navajo Nation Council and tribal grassroots cultural and environmental organizations.  I pay particular attention to how ancestral knowledge coded in the Fundamental Laws is interpreted by the government and the people and why the codification of these laws has not helped the people to decolonize and sustain their way of life.


Navajo; Diné; Fundamental Laws; decolonization

Full Text:



Amnesty International USA. (2007). Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA. New York, NY: AmnestyInternational Publications 2006.

Alfred, T., & Corntassel, J. (2005). Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism. Government and Oppression, 40(2), 597-614.

Donovan, B. (2009, 5 November). A First Good Year for Fire Rock. Navajo Times, p. A-1, A-5.

Donovan, B. (2010, 4 March). Betting on Casinos: Tribe going full-bore on Gaming Development. Navajo Times, p. A-1, A-5.

Fundamental Laws of the Diné. (2002). Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Council New Release. (2009, 23 July). Navajo Nation Council completes final day of 2009 summer session. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Council Resolution. (2005). Diné Marriage Act of 2005. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Nation.

Powell, D. E., & Curley, A. (2008). K’e, Hozhó, and non-governmental politics on the Navajo Nation: Ontologies of difference manifest in Environmental Activism. Anthropological Quarterly, 81, 17-58.

Shebala, M. (2009, 12 November). Slush Funds total over $35 million. Navajo Times, p. A-1, A-3.

Shebala, M. (2009, 29 October). Ethics Panel kills Subpoena for DiscretionaryFund Record. Navajo Times, p. A-4.

Shebala, M., & Donovan, B. (2012, 26 July). Prosecutors: 10-15 to face new criminal charges in Slush Fund Case. Navajo Times, p. 1-3.

Wagner, D., & Randazzo, R. (2008, 28 March). Navajo Set to Tap Power of the Wind. The Arizona Republic.

Wilson, W. A., & Yellow Bird, M. (Eds.). (2005). For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 1929-8692