Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


Factors that contribute to artisan sustainability are of critical importance to the world’s artisans who depend on hand-produced textiles for income and livelihood, and for whom textile production is closely intertwined with cultural identity. For Navajo (Diné) weavers, outside influences on their traditional fiber resource, Navajo- Churro sheep, have proven one critical factor in the quality, characteristics, and sustainability of Navajo handwoven textiles. The Diné acculturated a pastoral lifestyle and adapted wool for weaving from the desert sheep introduced into the American Southwest by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. Sheep proved critical to Diné weaving, cultural identity, and independence. As the American policy pendulum swung between assimilation and neglect toward native peoples during the past 150 years, Navajo-Churro flocks were repeatedly destroyed or interbred with ‘improved’ breeds. The subsequent near-extinction of Navajo-Churro sheep transformed Navajo handweaving from textiles woven with hand-processed sustainable fiber to textiles dependent on outside fiber sources. Informed by the historical context, this paper discusses an interpretive study on ways Diné be’ íína’ (DBI), a contemporary community-based Navajo organization, is working to restore Navajo-Churro sheep to Navajo lands and weaving. In-depth interviews and participant observation has revealed the depth of commitment to cultural identity and to Navajo-Churro wool as a cultural product.