Preserving the Navajo Agro-Pastoral Lifeway: an Indigenous-led Navajo-Churro Wool Cooperative | One Earth
Preserving the Navajo Agro-Pastoral Lifeway: an Indigenous-led Navajo-Churro Wool Cooperative

Preserving the Navajo Agro-Pastoral Lifeway: an Indigenous-led Navajo-Churro Wool Cooperative

Organization
Category Regenerative Agriculture

There are five main project categories: Energy Transition focuses on renewable energy access and energy efficiency. Nature Conservation includes wildlife habitat protection and ecosystem restoration, as well as Indigenous land rights. Regenerative Agriculture supports farmers, ranchers and community agriculture. Climate Change covers global science efforts, climate adaptation, and social justice work.

Realm Northern America

The Project Marketplace is organized by the major terrestrial realms divided into 14 biogeographical regions – N. America, Subarctic America, C. America, S. America, Afrotropics, Indomalaya, Australasia, Oceania, Antarctica, and the Palearctic realm, which coincides with Eurasia and is divided into Subarctic, Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern regions.

Status seed

Seed indicates an early stage project that needs some level of support to develop into a larger funding proposal. Ongoing indicates any project that needs core programmatic funding. Urgent indicates a short-term project initiated in response to a natural disaster or other impending risk.

Funding Level $$

$$ indicates a project with a funding need between $50,000-$250,000.

Timeframe 12 Months
Partner Fibershed

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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 is a response to the compounding need to support these culturally essential flocks and their stewards.

The project, led by the 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) do so with inspiring purpose and determination. The impact of these shepherds on their community brings food security, as well as 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 goals of this project:

  1. To initiate a self-sustaining online market channel to provide reliable income, supporting economic health for the families and communities of the three initial shepherds in this cooperative, whose flocks encompass 500 sheep impacting stewardship on 3,000 acres of land
  2. To donate 500 pounds of yarn to organizations focused on the cultural preservation of the Navajo weaving arts in the Navajo youth and elder communities
  3. To support the ongoing operation of the only nonprofit Navajo-Churro wool mill in the United States, and expansion of three additional jobs at the mill

Initial wool sales through the project will allow the participating shepherds to purchase supplies needed to keep their flocks healthy through the year, and a local nonprofit Navajo-Churro wool mill will produce yarn and other fiber products. A website and online fiber sales platform will be built to reach a broad audience in partnership with web developers, online marketing experts, and fiber art influencers. The sales plan accounts for the revenue needed to continue the project in future years, extending the benefit to shepherds, sheep, and the Navajo arts community without the need to fundraise again.

Three Navajo shepherds will be initial members of the Co-Op based on their flock size, fiber quality, and commitment to preserving traditional pastoral culture. These families will receive a fair income to support their flocks. The project will contribute to preserving the Navajo weaving arts and land-based culture by supporting these critical traditional flocks and through community donations of yarn and fiber. Adding three new skilled temporary jobs at the local nonprofit spinning mill will further support an economic and skill base for these traditional indigenous lifeways.

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 the impacts of drought. Navajo-Churro sheep are a landrace breed that evolved for hundreds of years to thrive on the dry desert range of the American Southwest. They are also the cornerstone of the spiritual and cultural life of the Navajo people. This project seeks to protect three flocks totaling approximately 500 of the last remaining Navajo-Churro sheep on the Navajo reservation. Their genetics are critically endangered, and they have the potential to have a positive environmental impact as climate change expands the desert region and periods of drought increase throughout the United States.

Most traditionalists still practice herbal and tobacco blessings on their herds to restore harmony to the sheep and land and promote a healthier animal. Diné be’iiná— Sheep is Life.

Make a donation

100% of your donation will go directly to support this project. You can also give a gift in honor of a friend or family member.

GIVE TODAY

Secure payment. USD donations tax-deductible.

Provide a major gift

Your contribution will help ensure the long term success of this important project. Gifts can be made as a tribute to a friend or family member and are tax-deductible for U.S. residents. Please contact us!