Supporting Navajo-Churro Shepherds Through an Indigenous-Led Wool Cooperative

This project will preserve the Navajo weaving arts and land based culture by supporting these critical traditional flocks and through community donations of yarn and fiber.

2022

While there is a sizable niche market for Navajo-Churro wool and weaving yarns, most Navajo-Churro products available for sale online are from non-Diné shepherds. Shepherds on the reservation are often told their wool is worthless or paid pennies per pound at mass wool buy events.

In 2020, the pandemic brought marketing activities like farm visits, classes, art shows, and fiber events to a standstill. Several large wool buys were canceled or refused to accept Navajo-Churro wool. This project responds to the compounding need to support these culturally essential flocks and their stewards.

The project if the women-led nonprofit Fibershed focuses on traditional Navajo shepherds living and grazing on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo pastoralists have faced devastating systemic pressures over generations, leading to the devaluation of their work in the modern sheep economy. The pastoralists who continue to preserve T’áá Dibé (the First Sheep) inspire purpose and determination.

The impact of these shepherds on their community brings food security and social and cultural connection to traditional land tending. Navajo-Churro shepherds deserve support to continue conservation efforts for their unique breed of sheep and their ancestral lifeway connected to the land.

The project will preserve the Navajo weaving arts and land-based culture by supporting these critical traditional flocks and through community donations of yarn and fiber.

Funding will provide more education, outreach, and wages to teachers, artists, and support staff.

It will create an additional runway to work with shepherds on improving their wool quality, which will increase the quantity of yarn they can sell to become self-sufficient.

This process takes time, as it involves changes to breeding and selection within the flocks. Historically, when monetary benefit has resulted from improved wool quality, shepherds have responded and successfully made changes in flock management and wool handling/storage to get a better price.

“Sheep is life” is the culture of my people. We’re taught that when we care for the sheep, they’ll care for us, providing sustenance, warmth, and life lessons.” — Nikyle Begay, Project Co-Founder, Diné shepherd, and fiber artist

Sheep grazing provides numerous well-known environmental benefits, including improved soil health, carbon sequestration, and better forage root structure and depth. Better root structure means healthier plants, greater water infiltration, and decreased susceptibility to drought impacts.

Navajo-Churro sheep are a landrace breed that evolved for hundreds of years to thrive on the desert range of the American Southwest. They are also the cornerstone of the spiritual and cultural life of the Navajo people.

Skills

Posted on

September 7, 2023

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