Navajo Restorative Economy Program

“A green economy is nothing new to Indigenous peoples. We have been practicing this way of life in harmony with Mother Earth before there was a wall street. But today, what we strive to do is unite the modern non-polluting technologies, such as wind and solar, with the traditional technologies, such as weaving and farming; and with that unity we can open up new doors of opportunity for ALL our people – young and old, college educated and land educated alike.”

– Enei Begaye Peter, BMWC co-founder and board member

As we resist and disable the extractive economy, what do we enable? The Restorative Economy Program represents our long-term vision for just transition. It cultivates an economy that benefits our people, strengthens our culture, and returns the term “economy” to its original meaning – the management of home. We choose the word “restorative” in recognition of the neglected environmental and social systems we must rebuild to restore the environment, improve human and community well being, strengthen kinship and culture, and put us on the path to a truly regenerative economy. One that exemplifies a balanced way of relating to each other and the natural world, and values the well being of our environment and people first and foremost.

Our work has been to determine what this means and how it looks in a practical sense. We do this by breaking down limiting policy barriers and instilling supportive policies. In July 2009, in partnership with regional environmental groups, BMWC established the Navajo Green Economy Fund and Commission within the structure of the Navajo Nation government. This is the first green economy legislation passed by any tribal government in the country. The legislation has yet to be well-utilized and funded, and more advocacy is needed to ensure tribal government support.

The Restorative Economy Program also houses pilot projects that exemplify an appropriate development path and incorporate traditional practices into local economic development. These projects are: The Navajo Wool Market Improvement Project, and The Food Sovereignty Project.

Navajo Wool Market Improvement Project

This project creates opportunities for people to learn the traditional processing and uses of wool, and aims to build local Navajo capacity to improve the quality of wool production, increase access to the wool market for Navajo producers, and elevate the market value for Navajo wool. We organized the first annual Wool Buy in 2012. We started by developing partnerships with wool buyers and together held workshops that taught local producers how to improve the quality of wool production. That year the annual Wool Buy was hosted in one community (Pinon. AZ) and sold ~15,000 pounds of Navajo wool, amounting to ~$13,000 for the Black Mesa region. In 2015 our 4th Annual Wool Buy was held in seven communities across the reservation, and sold ~60,000 pounds of wool. When we began the project the average amount paid to wool producers in boarder towns was $0.25 – $0.35/lb. Because of our work in the last four years, producers have received an average of $0.60 – $0.70/lb, with some receiving as much as $1.25/lb. Navajo churro wool however has proven harder to sell, at only $0.03/lb.

We continue to host workshops on best practice techniques and strategies for shearing, sorting, and grading wool, and building herds. Navajo churro wool, a dominant type of wool on the reservation, continues to be unwanted by buyers. Our educational efforts around this fact are beginning to set into Navajo Nation wool producers. Still, we are trying to find market outlets for churro wool as well. In 2015 BMWC purchased 596.6 pounds of colored and white fleece to process and are continuing to experiment with the economic viability of traditional uses of wool, such as for Navajo rugs. And we are researching other options. To ensure the art of Navajo rug weaving is taught to young generations, we also host weaving workshops. Participants learn the traditional stories behind the art, the skill of natural wool dying, and the actual art of weaving. This ensures new practitioners who appreciate our traditional economy’s products and services.

Food Sovereignty Project

The aim of this project is to support, strengthen, and ultimately revitalize the local food systems in the Black Mesa region. Our strategies reflect our role as both protector and propagator of the region’s food systems. We have developed a five-acre community farm that experiments with traditional and sustainable techniques of dry land farming. We utilize the traditional clanship structure to develop, the natural watershed to strategically choose field locations, and the natural landscape to build various water catchment systems like berms, canals, and spillways. Each year the field produces food and acts as an education center for other communities wanting to learn traditional farming. Therefore we play a leadership role for similar efforts across the Navajo Nation such as in the Little Colorado River Watershed Chapter Association (LCRWCA).

We’ve also been able to conduct a food assessment and inventory in the community of Blue Gap in 2014. We trained local youth in GPS mapping and supported them to map approximately 130 fields, totaling approximately 947 acres of potential farming lands in the Black Mesa region. Additionally, we interviewed 108 elders and farmers and conducted two separate surveys, which gathered information about the fields’ clan history, acreage, use, condition, and family eating habits. We’ve supported the restoration of some of these fields. We are also working to declare Black Mesa a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)-free zone by collecting supportive chapter resolutions in Hard Rock, Black Mesa, Pinon, Forest Lake, and Whipporwill. These successes are truly meaningful and represent the vast potential for food systems restoration on Black Mesa and across the Nation. The last part of the project’s work is to partner with various regional entities to advocate for Navajo Nation-wide policy change that promotes restoration.

To learn more:

Sustainable Development for the Navajo Nation
Dine Food Sovereignty: A Report on the Navajo Nation Food System and the Case to Rebuild a Self-Sufficient Food System for the Dine People
Resolution of Pinon Chapter Declaring Seed/ Food Sovereignty and Genetic Engineered/ Pesticide-Free Zone over Dzil Yijiin Region and all of Dine Bikeyah within the Four Sacred Mountains

Restorative Economy Program Partners

In order to ensure a restorative economy on Black Mesa, we have to support Navajo Nation-wide efforts to protect and propagate food sovereignty. Here are some of the efforts we are a part of and partners we work with:

Diné College Land Grant Office

Little Colorado River Watershed Chapter Association

Dine Food Sovereignty Alliance

Peace Fleece

Mid-State Wool Growers Cooperative Association