The Navajo Churro Lamb Presidium was invited to participate in several panel discussion on the issues surrounding food sovereignty, indigenous food knowledge, pastoral-ism, food justice and many more topics.
Aretta Begay, represented the group to give Navajo perspective on Navajo-Churro Sheep culture and Pastoral Life ways.
Panel Title: The Color of Farming
The Color of Farming (July 15, 3-4 pm), an exploration of race, farming, and a different future.
Angela Harris of UC Davis Law School is joined by Jim Embry of Sustainable Communities
Network in Lexington, KY, Aretta Begay of the Navajo Churro Sheep Presidium, Khai Nguyen of
VEGGI Farmers Co-operative in New Orleans, Matthew Raiford of Gilliard Farms in New
Brunswick, GA and Rudy Arredondo of National Latino Farmers; Ranchers Trade Association in
D.C. Learn about the impact of structural racism on farm ownership and the potential and
urgent need for change, especially through Farm Bill programs. Hear some success stories and
options for personal action that can lead to a different future.
Read an article on the history of the Navajo Churro Sheep at the link below:
Additional resources or other National parks to visit:
The Navajo-Churro Sheep Presidium was founded in 2006 to revive this ancestral Navajo breed of sheep, and to support the livelihoods of Diné sheepherders. This original, hearty and adaptable breed yields multi-colored fleece excellent for spinning, weaving and fiber arts. The meat is lean, sweet and nutritious.The goal of the Presidium is to foster a viable income for traditional Diné sheepherders and weavers by establishing a niche meat market for Churro lamb and mutton, in addition to wool and fiber arts.
Aretta Begay, represented the Navajo food and culture for the Navajo-Churro Lamb Presidium. She conducted a Traditional Navajo Sheep butcher demonstration and tasting. Below is an excerpt from the page:
“Had an amazing time at Jijak, this is what Indigenous food sovereignty looks like, so inspired by all of the amazing chefs, farmers, butchers, seed keepers, hunters, healers and community. Thank you for sharing your knoweledge and inspiration.
I decided to add this, it was on my mind all last week at Jijak;
Indigenous Food sovereignty is the right of people to have access to foods that are healthy, culturally appropriate and that tells a story of our peoples. Food sovereignty is a way for communities to empower themselves and have access to the food that has been part of our history in a way that is spiritual, ecologically sound and connects us to the land and future generations.
I challenge you to look beyond the picture of an animal being killed and think of what it really represents, not only food access to our foods, a spiritual connection and preservation of culture.
Having the opportunity to cook (Native American Culinary Association 2015) with Churro lamb, and now being able to butcher with Aretta, it has become clear that this food is not only nourishing for the body, but it goes beyond that – it connects us to the history of our peoples. There’s a lot of similarities between my indigenous peoples throughout the Americas: a history of genocide, displacement, ecological warfare that destroyed our traditional ways of agriculture in favor of foreign European crops like wheat, and stories that have been told for generations and a traditional ways of living responsibly in harmony with mother earth has not been lost.
I have deep respect for the Navajo sheepherders that approach what they do in the most inspiring way. “Our agro-pastoral lifeway and our Navajo-Churro Sheep evolved in the vast deserts, plateaus, and mountain ranges of Colorado Plateau. For centuries, sheep and goats provided us with economic self-sufficiency. Diné culture and spiritual practices reflect to the ebb and flow of traditional shepherding and weaving practices.” The navajo lifeway mission is “to restore the balance between Navajo culture, life, and land. We seek to preserve, protect, and promote the Navajo way of life; to encourage the participation and cooperation of the Navajo people among themselves and with other people and organizations; and to engage in research, education, development, establishment and promotion of projects and activities which further this ends.”
It is imperative that we acknowledge and remember that animals have been great companions on our journey post colonization, sheep for the Navajo, sheep and goats for the nations of Oaxaca, and even if this animals came with the Spanish, they adapted with us to our new reality, and have been part of our diets, stories and culture. Having a slaughter at a conference like Jijak goes beyond being a “workshop”, it is a way of honoring our past, indigenizing the food movement, and most important – sharing and revitalizing traditional foodways. It is NOT about following the trends in gastronomy, because Indigenous peoples have always approached slaughtering “nose to tail” and our agriculture has always used “permaculture” methods and cooking has always been “farm to table”, there has never been any other way, not only out of necessity but most importantly out of respect for animals, the land, and the rhythms of life in nature.
Being able to learn and share with others in the Indigenous food movement is an act of defiance, is us taking care of each other and recognizing that food is killing us but it can also be part of the solution. It is a way of ensuring that we share knowledge with each other and most importantly, younger generations.”
Posted by Chef Neftali Duran & with quotes from Director of DBI Aretta Begay.
Photo gallery of events and information at this link:
This year promises to be one of our largest and best events. The event will be hosted by Dine College at Tsaile AZ, Friday June 17th-Sunday June 19th 2016. Please visit our Sheep is Life page for more details on location, accommodations and the current agenda.
If you would like to be a vendor, including selling sheep, please fill out a vendor’s form and submit. More details on activities including the Navajo-Churro Sheep and Wool Show will be posted soon. Be sure to contact us using our contact page if you have questions or special needs.
Weaving Class to be offered at DeGoatsNsheep Ranch,
We are excited to present a week long class in beginning Navajo Weaving during the week of August 8 – 12, 2016. Those who participate will be taught the process of weaving a Navajo rug from start to finish on an upright Navajo loom. Spinning and plying the edge cords before warping will be part of the class. Students will compose their own design and choose their own color combinations.
The Beginning Navajo Weaving Class will be taught by Ilene Naegle. Ilene was brought up in Ganado, Arizona and learned to weave from her mother, Ella Mae (Naegle) Kay. Ella Mae taught weaving in Sedona along with Mary Pendleton, who wrote Navajo and Hopi Weaving Techniques, published in 1974. It is still a wonderful resource today. Ilene continues to live in Ganado and teaches weaving at Dine College. She teaches weaving because she believes that weaving is a therapeutic practice and a way of discipline and self-control to strengthen the mind.
Cost of 5 day class: $350 plus materials fee $50
Warp and weft yarns, battens, combs and spindles will be provided. Looms with dowels sticks will also be provided. Looms and tools will be available for purchase. These looms will produce a rug approximately 14 x 20.
Lunches will be provided by the ranch, and lodging is available.
Questions? Smjam9@aol.com 970-884-0502
Application for Beginning Navajo Weaving
At DeGoatsnsheep Ranch
August 8 -12, 2016
This class is intended to be a small, intimate class. Only 5 – 7 students will be able to participate.
We have a guesthouse at DeGoatsnsheep that sleeps a maximum of 4: there are two twin beds in the loft and a queen bed in the bedroom. It has a propane forced air furnace and is very well insulated. The guesthouse has a screened in porch, full bath, full and well-equipped kitchen, and small living room. It is normally listed through the Durango Chamber of Commerce, VRBO, and at our own website: www.degoatsnsheepranch.com. There are a few pictures of the interior and exterior on our website.
If you are interested in reserving a space in the guesthouse and sharing with other workshop participants during this week, please email or call Linda and Jim Smith. (Also direct general questions about the workshop to this number).
For those staying in Durango: DeGoatnshseep Ranch is located 18 miles from Durango on a well maintained county road. Access to the ranch with a regular vehicle is possible; if renting a vehicle, 4wd recommended.
August is generally a pleasant month here in southwestern Colorado. It can be hot and dry during the day and cool at night. It also can be rainy. Good shirtsleeve weather, but bring some warmer clothes as well.
To reserve a space for the class, please call the number listed above first. If we have room for you, you will need to send a check along with this application for the full cost of the class.
*We do not take credit cards!!!
*Materials fees can be paid by check along with registration, or with check or cash at the time of the class.
*Cancellations for a full refund will be accepted until May 31, 2016.
(DeGoatsnsheep reserves the right to cancel the class if we do not receive enough responses. In this case, the full amount will be refunded)
Phone: 928-255-2259 email: email@example.com
Beginning Navajo Weaving by Ilene Naegle at DeGoatsnsheep Ranch
Home phone _________________________________ cell: _____________________________
Please let us know your previous experience, if any, with weaving:
Are there any food considerations we should know about regarding lunches?
Cost of class $350.00 ____________
Materials fee 50.00 _____________
Space in guesthouse@ $40.00 per night
# nights ____ Dates: _____________________
Once you have called and received approval that you have a space in the class, please send this page and your check to:
DeGoatsnsheep Ranch LLC
9397 CR 502
Bayfield, Colorado 81122
When your application is received I will send you a notice via email that it has arrived along with a specific map to the ranch. – Linda firstname.lastname@example.org 970-884-0502
Celebrate the Navajo sheep culture and pastoral lifeways this summer. Co sponsored by the Land Grant Office of Dine College.
Shiprock, NM: Today, the Dine Be’ Iiná Inc have launched an all volunteer effort to conduct the Sheep Is Life annual event to focus on continuing the interest in the Navajo sheep culture and spirituality. Sheep Is Life will be held June 12-19, 2016 in Tsaile, AZ at the Dine College Campus.
Sheep is Life is a gathering for all weavers, artists and those who love sheep, wool, fiber arts and the diverse cultures that have maintained these lifeways for thousands of years. Sheep is Life also focuses on the role of raising awareness on the role of the Navajo-Churro sheep in the evolution of Navajo weaving; special qualities of Navajo-Churro wool, meat and survival rates; and economic development for small scale sheep and wool producers. Everyone is welcome. Bring tools, spindles, sheep, wool, art and creativity to share.
Pre-Celebration Fiber Arts Workshops will be held from June 12-17, 2016 include weaving workshops, , twill weaving, hand spinning, carding, wool dyeing, vest felting, sash belt, horse cinch weaving, lead rope braiding and advance weaving techniques. Free public events will be held on June 17-19th which includes sheep and wool shows, speakers, workshops, vendor, tasting event, youth activities, seminars, sheep to loom demonstrations, Navajo fiber show/store and many more.
Dine Be’ Iiná Inc is a nonprofit organization incorporated in the Navajo Nation since 1991. Dine Be’ Iiná’s mission is to restore the balance between Dine Culture, life and land. It is managed by a volunteer Board of Directors and assisted by many individuals who generously contribute time and resources. We collaborate with many other organizations that we collaborate with in providing workshops and promoting leadership, economic development and support for traditional lifeways of Diné shepherds and fiber artists.
Download a Navajo Nation Handbook on Sheep and Wood Production:
To create a high quality fleece, the animal must have consistently good nutrition and be free from stress and disease. Clean environments also contribute to good quality of fleece. Good breeding practices must be followed to ensure that the proper genetics for high quality Navajo-Churro Wool are passed on to offspring. Sheep health care, wool grading and judging, and sheep shows at Sheep Is Life help producers learn what it take to produce quality fleeces.
First, wool must be shorn from sheep. Blade shearing done by hand can be very time consuming. A good blade shearer can beat the machine, but few have this skill today. Machine shearing requires a power source. If the machine isn’t portable, herders must transport their sheep, a difficult, stressful undertaking. Blade shearing is the most traditional and practical solution when dealing with the average-sized Navajo flock (25-50 sheep). Proficiency in both mechanical and blade shearing should be improved.
Next, shorn fleece must be skirted: the manure, suit, sticks, and other trash sticking to the edges of the fleece have to be cut off and the fleece picked over to remove vegetal matter. The fleeces are then sorted by grade and color, marked by producer, and packaged for handling and storage. Cleaning or Opening. While a good Churro fleece can actually be spun right off the skirting table, most fleeces have to be cleaned and washed. Prior to washing, the fleece must be opened to release dust and open locks of wool for penetration of the scouring agents. This can be done by hand, with several kinds of tools, or mechanically.
Churro wool can be cleaned with white clay, but the washing method applicable to most wool produced on the Navajo Nation requires hot water and scouring agents to remove the lanolin and dirt. The clean, opened fleece needs to be moved through a series of four hot water baths, of which two contain detergent. The wool must be handled gently and not allowed to cool between baths. This is to prevent felting. It must be “squeegeed” (the water pressed out rather than wrung out) between bath one and two so that most of the dirt and lanolin are left behind. Scouring agents maybe used to remove grease, which inhibits mechanical processing of the wool. Navajo-Churro wool tends to have less grease than commercial breeds making washing much less intensive. A few hand spinners may prefer to leave grease in. If there is a sufficient amount, the lanolin removed from scouring may be recovered as a by-product. Finally, the fleece must be dried carefully so as to prevent felting.
Most spinners prefer working with roving. This is created by card (similar to combing) the wool so the fibers all go the same direction. Carding can be done with hand carders (small boards with teeth attached like a metal hair brush), hand-cranked drum carders (drums covered with the same type of toothed material), or motorized drum carders. Motorized drum carders come in a range of sizes from small carders for home use to larger ones for cottage industry. The larger carders can also produce bats, which are useful for quilting and for felting. Bats are sheet like where as roving is rope-like. The length, width and thickness of roving or batting depends on the methods used to create it.
Wool can be dyed at any stage after washing, depending on the needs of the final product, the desires of the spinner/weaver, and the processes to be used. Dyeing requires hot water, and sometimes the wool must sit in the hot water for a day or longer. The wool must then be rinsed. The wastewater requires careful disposal according to manufacturer’s recommendations and the condition of the local wastewater system. Dyeing process using natural materials are not benign because they usually depend on mordents.
Spinning. The last stage of processing is spinning the wool into yarn. Spinning can be done with the thigh spindle (traditional Navajo), drop spindle or a spinning wheel.
Diné philosophy, spirituality, and sheep are intertwined like wool in the strongest weaving. Sheep symbolize the Good Life, living in harmony and balance on the land. Before they acquired domesticated sheep on this continent, Diné held the Idea of Sheep in their collective memory for thousands of years. While wild mountain sheep provided meat and the Diné gathered wool from the shedding places, the species of sheep in North America do not have a herd behavior that permits domestication. As a result, the Diné asked their Holy People to send them a sheep that would live with them and with care they would provide a sustainable living.
“Sheep in every essence an important part of our culture and traditions. It is important to celebrate our sheep traditions and our lifeways. Our Sheep Is Life Celebration re-centers us in the cosmos of our universe; it is our blessingway ceremony for our continuance here on earth, and for the next generations to come.”
Roy Kady, former President of DBI
In the early 1600s, Navajo acquisition of “la raza churra” sheep from the Spanish colonists inspired a radical lifestyle change to an agro-pastoralist way of life and expanded mobility. In the high deserts and wooded mountains of Diné Bikéyah (Navajo Land) Diné pastoralists developed the Navajo-Churro breed, which thrived under the spiritual and pastoral care of their new companions and assumed a central role in the People’s psychology, creativity, and religious life. With songs, prayers, and techniques taught to them by Spider Woman and looms first built by Spider Man, traditional Navajo weaving evolved to utilize the special qualities of the glossy Navajo-Churro wool.
As the Navajo managed their flocks for over 350 years, they evolved the Navajo-Churro, a breed recognized by the American Sheep Industry. They are hardy and have excellent mothering instincts and successfully lamb out on the range with little assistance. Smaller than many commercial breeds, they eat less and do well on forage alone. They do not need grain. There legs, faces and bellies are free of wool so they do not pick up burrs. They are tall, narrow in build with fine bones, making them sound, agile and fast out on the range.
Carpet-wool sheep have two lengths of fiber, an inner coat of fine wool with an outer coat of hair. Navajo-Churro fleece is low in lanolin requiring little water for washing. It may be spun directly from the raw fleece without time-consuming carding. The wool comes in natural colors and is very high in luster which are highly-prized by hand-spinners. Yarn spun from this type of wool is extremely strong and durable, making it excellent for the Navajo rugs, horse cinches, and belts. In addition the wool can be easily felted for a variety of uses including hats and outer garments; the distinctive long-haired pelts are highly valued.
Navajo-Churro Sheep are also excellent for milking. A range of dairy products is possible. Because Navajo-Churro store fat in their bellies, the meat is very lean in comparison to the meat of other contemporary breeds. The lightly flavored meat is prized by Chefs and brings a premium price.
A series of Federal government actions led to the almost total eradication of the Navajo-Churro breed, disrupting the chain connecting Navajo culture, weaving, traditional lifestyle, and self-sufficiency. In the early to mid-1900s, market forces, ignorance, and misguided attempts to “improve” Navajo wool, depressed the economic value of Navajo-Churro sheep and led to their almost complete extinction. During the 1930s, Navajos were forced by the United States to radically reduce their herds – the wellspring of their Good Life.
Government agents went from Hogan to Hogan, shooting a specified percentage of the sheep in front of their horrified owners, who love their sheep and regard them as family members. First to be shot were the Churro, because the agents thought this hardy breed was “scruffy and unfit.” Today, elders tearfully recall that time and can describe in detail each sheep that was killed and the exact location of the massacre. At the same time, traditional summer grazing lands in the mountains were appropriated by the U.S. government and a system of allotments was instituted which disrupted the traditional way of family land management. In the late 1930s and ‘40s, Federal agents discouraged raising the Navajo-Churro encouraged cross-breeding with other fine wool genotypes. This practice has led to wool that is very undesirable for both the commodity market and the specialty wool market.
The shorter wool fibers of commercial breeds break easily when hand spun using traditional Navajo methods and do not take the native, natural dyes very well. Navajo weavers became discouraged with trying to process this new wool by traditional means, and many began buying commercially produced and dyed yarns. While beautiful weavings have been created with commercial yarns, their use has contributed to breaking the traditional tie between sheep, wool, land, and weaving. Weavings made with commercial yarns are not as durable, and the texture and quality are not the same as those created with Navajo-Churro wool. Among today’s informed collectors, weavings from Churro wool command premium prices.
By the 1970s, only about 450 of the old type Navajo-Churro existed on the entire Navajo Nation, and only a few specimens were preserved in other locations. The conventional wisdom of the time was “the breed is not useful – let it die out,” an attitude often directed towards the traditional cultures, themselves. The disappearance of the Churro has adversely affected the Navajos’ health, as well as economic opportunities for specialized niche markets for meat and wool.
In the mid-1970s, animal scientist Dr. Lyle McNeal, sheep industry expert with Utah State University, recognized the genetic and cultural significance of the Navajo-Churro. He searched out enough remaining Navajo-Churro sheep to start a foundation flock. From this flock he has been able to re-introduce Navajo-Churro Sheep to the Navajo people. In 1977, Dr. and Mrs. McNeal founded the Navajo Sheep Project. The project has placed many breeding stock with Navajo families and helped form the nucleus of Ganados del Valle/Tierra Wools flocks in Los Ojos.
The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association was founded 25 years ago to maintain a breed registry and ensure quality. Today, there are several thousand sheep of this breed from throughout the United States registered with the association. Yet the numbers are too low for the breed to be safe and Navajo Churro Sheep continue to be listed by the Livestock Breeds Conservancy as “threatened by extinction”.
Diné be’ iiná, Inc. (The Navajo Lifeway) was founded by Navajos in 1991 to represent and assist Navajo Nation sheep and goat producers in their efforts to improve their
The Navajo-Churro Heritage Lamb Presidium was formed in 2007 with help of Slow Food International. The Protocol Guidelines of the Navajo-Churro Lamb Presidium (NCLP) include breed registration requirements, care, feeding, slaughter, labeling, and marketing, and a Member Agreement is to be signed by all members signifying a considerable level of cooperation. The group has created its own brand and label. They utilize brokers to develop relationships with Chefs and others who purchase their lamb for a premium price.
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There is no registration required to attend. If you have any questions or concerns with the event, feel free to contact us anytime.