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“Seeds and Sheep” program in response to COVID

By: Cynthia Wilson

Photos by Cynthia Wilson, Traditional Foods Program Director

Launching the “Seeds and Sheep” program is an act of food justice to show the Earth and universe that we are shifting back to cultural solutions to address the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, and oppression on our food systems.

Born in Dinétah, a part of us is rooted in the soil of Earth once our umbilical cord falls off. My grandmother planted mine in her sheep corral with an offering of corn pollen, as a cultural practice that connects us to our motherland. We have a reciprocal relationship with the Earth and universe, as we pray with our crops and tend to our livestock – gifts from the Holy People who bring us rain, harmony and balance. 

Photos by Cynthia Wilson, Traditional Foods Program Director

In the old days, families were well respected and viewed as the strongest and healthiest based on the size of their corn field, and livestock, which were important assets to overall health, economy, and subsistent lifestyles. 

Unfortunately, as Diné people, we have always been oppressed and silenced by western society. Mainstream values of capitalism are blinded by the cultural intactness and vast knowledge systems that still exists in our Indigenous communities. Colonization, cultural appropriation, and assimilation has put our subsistent lifeways into dormancy. 

For example, during the time of the Long Walk in the late 1800s, military campaigns used scorched earth tactics, such as slaughtering of livestock, burning of fields and orchards, and the destruction of our water sources (DPI, 2014). From the 1930s to 1945, the Bureau of Indian Affairs mandated a livestock reduction effort. During this same time period, my home – Oljato, Navajo Nation, as well as the community of Aneth had at least 63,137 sheep and goats grazing in what is now San Juan County, Utah. According to the Diné Policy Institute (2014), “It was estimated that Navajos had over 1.3 million sheep and goats, and the BIA sought to bring Diné herd size to below 560,000 sheep, goats and cattle.” Diné herds among Utah Diné were reduced to about 36,000 (McPherson, 1998). 

Photos by Cynthia Wilson, Traditional Foods Program Director

These historical impacts led to the association of declining traditional farming practices. The reduction in livestock also shifted our food systems and livelihoods away from subsistence. The stars, sun and clouds are yearning for our people to place seeds in the soil to rehydrate our relationship with Earth as we restore holistic health and balance during this challenging time. 

Along with being a personal goal, Utah Diné Bikéyah’s effort is to heal intergenerational trauma by planting seeds of hope to germinate inspiration, cultivate knowledge and nourish our families through k’é (kinship), ajooba’ (humility and kindness), and hozhó (beauty, joy and balance). We are just like the drought-resilient seeds, insofar as we have been able to withstand the ongoing storms, injustices and traumas that have affected our food systems. Restoring our flocks of sheep and expanding seed sovereignty is a way to reclaim our self-sufficient food systems, economy and connection to the land.  


A history of epidemics: In past, Navajos survived many epidemics. Spanish flu, virus pose danger: Donovan Quintero, Navajo Times 2020 

Diné Food Sovereignty Report: Diné Policy Institute, 2014

Food Sovereignty The Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman, Charlotte J. Frisbie, 2018 

I’ll Go and Do More, Annie Dodge Wauneka: Navajo Leader and Activist, Carolyn Niethammer, 2001

Navajo Livestock Reduction in Southeastern Utah, 1933-46: History Repeats Itself, Robert S. McPherson, 1998

Seeds and sheep to help Indigenous people grappling with COVID-19 in the Four Corners area

Seeds of Hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic 

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