“In 1982, when we started returning sheep to the Navajo, the elders would come up to the truck and look at the sheep while we were getting gas and start telling stories. They’d have tears in their eyes.”
History of the Navajo-Churro and the Navajo Sheep Project
Navajo-Churro were the first sheep to come to the New World by way of the Spanish conquerors from Spain in the 1540's. The sheep thrived on the semi-arid Southwest and became an integral part of Navajo culture, tradition and religion. The sheep provided meat, milk, and wool for the Navajo people. The Navajo-Churro wool was the foundation of Navajo weaving and Hispanic Rio Grande textiles.
However, like the buffalo of the Plains Indians, the Navajo-Churro were systematically destroyed by federal soldiers and agents in an effort to subjugate the Navajo people. By 1950 Navajo sheep raising was considered to be on a sound basis for continuance, which meant at a dead level of production, and a marginal enterprise. The income for the majority of Navajo families was extremely low as compared with Anglos, and was the lowest of any Indian group in the Southwest. Income off sheep raising provides barely 1/3 of the tribes standard of living. By 1973 there were fewer than 450 Navajo-Churro among the more then 300,000 sheep on the reservation.