Long Thread Podcast: Nikyle Begay, Rainbow Fiber Co-op

Season 5, Episode 1: Navajo-Churro sheep have a centuries-old history and an even greater meaning to the Diné, but the commercial market set a low price for their wool. A group of shepherds have come together to find strength—and value—in solidarity.

Anne Merrow Jul 30, 2022 - 3 min read

Long Thread Podcast: Nikyle Begay, Rainbow Fiber Co-op Primary Image

Podcast s5e1

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"Take care of the sheep, and the sheep will take care of you." Nikyle Begay remembers their grandmother saying those words as they watched her flock. Nikyle grew up to raise Navajo-Churro sheep of their own, loving the lustrous fleece and beautiful sheep along with the connection to their ancestors.

Despite the breed's cultural and spiritual value, Navajo shepherds received a very low price and even less respect for their wool. Shepherds were encouraged to breed with finewool sheep to make the fleece more commercially saleable. But doing that would breed out the strength, luster, and color variation that make Navajo-Churro sheep the perfect wool for weaving traditional weft-faced tapestries.

Remembering their grandmother's advice, Nikyle and a fellow Navajo-Churro shepherd, Kelli Dunaj, developed a plan for a wool co-op that would support shepherds with shearing, buy their wool at a fair price, process it into yarn, and sell it—then devote the proceeds to repeating the process next year. The project's first year was 2021, when they took wool to the mill and saw their online shop sold out within days. In 2022, word of mouth brought even more shepherds to sell to the co-op, and the group has plans to grow again next year.

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Rainbow Fiber Co-op
Sheep Is Life
Rainbow Fiber Co-op Instagram
"Navajo-Churro Sheep and Shepherds: Meet the Rainbow Fiber Co-Op" by Nikyle Begay, Spin Off magazine website
"The Diné, Their Sheep, and a Tale of Survival," Handwoven magazine website