A Very Brief History of Weaving in the Southwest
As there is a clear visual relationship between Rio Grande weaving and the other weaving traditions of the Southwest, it is worth trying to find it's proper place in the scheme of things Southwestern. As there are a great many experts out there, I must admit up front that this is can only be a cursory explanation, from a weaver, not an academician.
It is safe to say that there had been weaving happening in the Southwest since about 800 AD, several hundred years before any Europeans came to the area. That weaving appears to have been primarily of cotton, a crop currently produced commercially in the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona. The Pueblos, varied, geographically widespread, and agriculturally adept, were the the growers and weavers of cotton. Their looms were upright (vertical), and both living Pueblos and their predecessors' historic ruins had looms set up in kivas, incorporated into religious ceremony.
When the Spanish came to the Southwest, the Pueblo Indians were made to weave as part of their subjugation. The churro sheep brought by the Spanish became the new fiber source, and the striped, longer-than-wide format of the Rio Grande blanket was adopted for Pueblo blankets. In 1680 the Pueblo Revolt occurred, and the Spanish were driven back to El Paso del Norte. When the Spanish returned to New Mexico, more cooperative arrangements were made for peaceful coexistence. Pueblo weaving today consists of mantas, including elaborately embroidered examples, sashes of varying widths and weave structures, and the striped blanket descendants of those woven for Spanish overlords.
Although their stories tell otherwise, it is generally believed that the Navajo learned to weave from the Pueblos sometime around the mid seventeenth century. For a nomadic group, the mobility of sheep and the relatively portable vertical loom were well suited. Navaho weaving covers a wide history of influences; the stripes of Spanish and Pueblo blankets, the Saltillo diamond and zig zags of Mexico, and the Oriental rug enthusiasm of the Victorian period traders. But the Navajo have always brought their own cultural aesthetic to weaving, giving meaning to the work through stories, symbols, and craftsmanship.
There are a great many books on Southwestern Weaving, and probably even more specifically on Navajo weaving, all recommended reading