Navajo wool producer featured in exhibit

Dec 28, 2014

A Navajo wool grower is featured in the “Meet the Producer” exhibit at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

Various farmers and ranchers from throughout the state are featured in the exhibit on a rotating basis. Tahnibaa “Aglohiigiih” Naataanii comes from Toadlena, N.M. at the base of the Chuska Mountains. She and her family have raised Navajo Churro sheep for generations.

She is the daughter of the Leo and Sarah H. Natani. Her maternal grandparents are Nakai Chee (William Henderson), a horseman, silversmith, farmer, and sheepherder, and Mary Lee Mike Henderson a potter, weaver, and moccasin maker. Her paternal grandparents are John Naataanii Begay, a sheepherder and traditional healer and Sarah Balone, a weaver. Both her paternal and maternal grandparents raised sheep as well as their parents and grandparents. Her parents continued the tradition of raising sheep and passed the vital livelihood on to Tahnibaa. Sheep are considered extended family and provide “All” of their livelihood.

Tahnibaa’s mother, Sarah H. Natani, taught her to weave when she was seven years old. Her middle name, Aglohiigiih, means “The Weaver.” Throughout her teenage years she wove during the summer months to earn money for school clothes. After graduation from high school, Tanhibaa joined the Navy, and while she did not weave during these years, she always paid special attention to the weavings from other cultures that she saw during her travels. Today, she participates in several juried art shows every year and travels throughout the world to exhibit her work. One of her weaving is on display in the U.S. Ambassador’s home in Vientiane, Laos. Tahnibaa is teaching her daughter, Winter Rose Naataanii Hoskie to weave and she travels with her mother and grandmother to exhibit their traditional Navajo fiber art.

These sheep come from the herds her family has owned for generations. “Our sheep are known for their beautiful shades of brown,” Tahnibaa says. “In Navajo we say ‘Dibi Lichee, the red sheep.’” Tahnibaa believes that raising the sheep also feeds her Navajo spirituality.

Tahnibaa makes her living from the sheep. “I use the wool from the sheep for my weaving and felting projects, and use the meat for food.” When Tahnibaa’s daughter, Winter Rose had her womanhood ceremony the sheep were used to feed the family and quests. She also donates sheep for healing ceremonies and some sheep are sold to the community. Each year the new crop of wool that Tahnibaa does not use in her weaving is sold to external markets. She has established a scholarship fund for her daughter’s college with this money.

Tahnibaa has been raising the family sheep herd for the past 13 years. “When I came home from college and was working outside the Navajo Nation, the sheep were always there. Walking to the corral and smelling the life of the sheep reminded me of my ancestral lineage. Routines like moving the sheep to Spring and Summer camps reminded me of the dedication my parents had to keep the sheep ranching alive in the family. Through challenges of drought and ranching, mom and dad always had the sheep.”

The museum is part of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and rests on 47 acres on the southeastern edge of Las Cruces. It features many animals, including Churro sheep, demonstrations, indoor and outdoor exhibits, gift shop and snack bar and much more. For more information, call (575) 522-4100 or visit www.nmfarmandranchmuseum.org

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For information contact Craig Massey at craig.massey@state.nm.us.