Sheep is Life: Celebrating Navajo Weaving and Shepherding

Weaving in progress. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Weaving in progress. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Have you ever had the opportunity to spin Navajo Churro wool? This special fleece has wonderful durability, luster, and is traditionally low in wool-grease. It can be carded, but is also often spun directly from the raw fleece. The sheep, referred to by the Diné (Navajo) as Taa’ Dibei’, meaning “the old sheep,” have long played a vital role in the communities and landscape in which they live. Cindy Dvergsten, Navajo Lifeway board member says, “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.”

 

On June 17–19, 2016 more than 300 people are expected to gather in celebration of the Navajo Churro at the twentieth annual Sheep is Life event. Held at Diné College on the northeast rim of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, the event is hosted by Navajo Lifeway, an organization that seeks to “restore the balance between Navajo culture, life, and land.” This year’s 3-day Sheep is Life gathering is admission-free to the public and will feature over fifty educational programs and demonstrations. Visitors can experience many facets of the Navajo tradition from fiber arts to culinary arts to flock and land management. Renown fiber artists, including Sarah Natani, will be demonstrating wool-dyeing methods, handspinning, Navajo weaving, and fleece skirting.

Handspun Navajo Churro yarn dyed with natural materials. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Handspun Navajo Churro yarn dyed with natural materials. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Lectures include “Understanding Qualities and Uses for Navajo Churro Wool,” with Connie Taylor, and “Breeding and Conservation of the Navajo Churro Sheep,” with Dr. Lyle McNeal. For more than four decades, Dr. McNeal has been striving to “preserve and breed back Navajo Churro sheep so they can return to their historic place and purpose among the Navajo and Hispanic cultures.” When he began his work in the 1970s, there were less than 450 Churros on the Navajo Nation. Learn more about the important work behind the Navajo Sheep Project and the Lamb Presidium.

The 2014 Sheep is Life Navajo Churro Sheep and Wool Show. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

The 2014 Sheep is Life Navajo Churro Sheep and Wool Show. Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

For the twentieth anniversary of Sheep is Life, a special focus has been placed on honoring those who have donated their efforts and talents over the last two decades. Each year, a number of grants help make the endeavor possible, but organizers still rely on additional donations to continue hosting the annual event. You can learn more about Navajo Lifeway, Sheep is Life, and make online donations at NavajoLifeway.org.


Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Photo: Cindy Dvergsten.

Sheep is Life
Diné College
Tsailé, Arizona
June 17‒19, 2016

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