Thoughts about Sheep Is Life, the 2023 Window Rock Celebrations, and my first presentation with edits from the Navajo Lifeways group.
But this year's 2023 Sheep Is Life Celebrations in Window Rock, Arizona moved me to throw on my good boots, the ones that rarely see the corral, with some coral and Navajo pearls. On Saturday June 17th, with a mask and sanitizer ready, I headed to our Nation's capital. After a year of editing I am on the last leg of author edits of my book project prior to submission to the editors. Presenting helps to remind me of my chapter story lines, receive feedback from community members on my interpretations, and reinvigorates my project and the sprouts from the main research. And if there was a crowd I wanted to speak in front of, it was this one. So I stepped out - unsure of what was more daunting: presenting my findings to the group who spent years teaching me or stepping out into a world that has relaxed its COVID prevention protocols. Paranoid?, maybe. Crazy?, possibly. Nervous?, absolutely.
I arrived at the Navajo Nation Museum and saw so many beautiful familiar faces. They were chatting, working with fibers, selling rugs, jewelry, paintings, and shirts. Most were sheep themed - it made me which I wore my black sheep shirt :) I also noticed the missing presence of those hadn't made it to this side of the pandemic because of age, because of sickness, because of life. The warm sun and slight breeze meshed those memories with the current realities. It felt good to be touched by it all and to be around this group.
I made my way to the auditorium, removed my mask, hooked up my wireless mic, and started speaking. Maybe it was because this was my first in person presentation about my work in the dust of COVID - maybe it was because I was just grateful to be alive, when so many hadn't made it to this dust trail - maybe it was because my husband was in the crowd for the first time. What ever it was, as I spoke I became more and more grateful.
During my presentation, it hit hard -- the positive impact of the Diné be' iiná: Navajo Lifeways organization - the people, the histories, the sheep. They have been part of my journey, integrating a Navajo girl who grew up mostly off the reservation into a confident Táchinii woman who grows with the land and animals of the Chuskas. A lot of people talk about how difficult it is returning home to live, finding a job, fitting in - but it wasn't like that for me. While it may have been daunting, it wasn't something that I was going to shy away from. I accepted positions in the dorm before working up to an associate professor and grant manager for the Navajo Cultural Arts Program. All along, I was raising sheep, or as my book dives into, they were raising me. It had been in my dreams from childhood that I would return - and I have - but never along. My grandparents, family, sheep, shadow, and this Diné be' iina: Navajo Lifeways group helped me to secure my footing.
We have woven together, run together, butchered together, eaten together, celebrated together, and complained together.
I was particularly excited to share with Sheep Is Life's audience the introduction of the Indigenous Animals Studies curriculum at Diné College. This was an important result of my dissertation and my conversations with the individuals I met through the Navajo Lifeways Organization. In particular, at my very first focus group at Roy's house, a group assembled to butcher with me and to help me to fine tune questions for my dissertation. Roy himself suggested asking about what classes students could take to reconnect with nonhuman animals and if students would be interested in them. Turns out they were and now they can - so thank you, Dine Be'Iina Inc, for hosting not just Sheep Is Life, but for living it :) You have helped me live it too!
Sheep Is Life, I'll see you next year - hopefully with a book in hand!
If you would like to check out the presentation - I speak for about 30 minutest starting at the 50 minute marker: https://www.facebook.com/709240484/videos/6530199793698042/
Just a Tách'inii thinking out loud about butchering, researching, manuscript writing, and life on the Navajo reservation.