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.
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