Rainbow Fiber Co-Op is a Diné-led and shepherd owned agricultural co-operative established to improve the financial sustainability and equitable market outcomes for the largest flocks of Dibé dits’ozí (Navajo-Churro sheep) remaining on the Navajo reservation. Our project leverages the resources and knowledge of a collective to close the gap between rural Diné shepherds and an e-commerce driven marketplace for their wool.
In the summer of 2021 we will purchase approximately 3,000 pounds of Navajo-Churro wool from our shepherds. We will provide a stipend for shearing help and pay the shepherds a fair price for their wool by the pound. After skirting and sorting by color we will transport the wool to Mora Valley Spinning Mill, a nonprofit community-based wool mill located in Mora, New Mexico, to produce an assortment of Navajo-style weaving yarns. By the winter of 2021 we will offer Diné-grown Navajo-Churro weaving yarns for sale online direct-to-customer. Sales dollars generated will be used to repeat the wool buy project in 2022.
Most of the Navajo-Churro wool products available for sale online are from non-Diné shepherds. Diné shepherds are often told their wool is worthless or paid pennies per pound at mass wool buy events. Despite these challenges many shepherds create a market for themselves through hand spinning, weaving, and teaching weaving classes. This is difficult to do at scale and an unreliable source of income. In 2020 the pandemic brought marketing activities like farm visits, classes, art shows, and fiber events to a standstill. Several medium- to large-scale wool buys were completely canceled. We saw an opportunity to step up and do something to support these important flocks.
Who Are We?
Nikyle Begay (they/them) is a Diné shepherd, fiber artist, and teacher based in Ganado, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. Nikyle is the Team Leader for Rainbow Fiber Co-Op and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the project. Nikyle has experience working in technology and the nonprofit sector, as well as an extensive background in sheep flock management, wool production, traditional wool processing, and the weaving arts. You can find them on Instagram @navajoshepherd.
Kelli Dunaj (she/her) is a California-based Navajo-Churro shepherd and fiber producer located in Marshall, about 2 hours north of San Francisco. Kelli is the Project Coordinator for the Co-Op and brings her experience in retail operations to the table in addition to her love and respect for Navajo-Churro sheep and Diné sheep culture. Kelli runs a successful direct-to-customer lamb business, and markets sheepskins, weaving yarns, and roving online. You can find her on Instagram @springcoyoteranch.
Nikyle and Kelli are dear friends who have volunteered together on numerous projects and activities for the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association over the years. In 2020 we decided to take our work to the "next level" and start a social enterprise project of our own.
Fibershed.org is a nonprofit organization that develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers across the United States. They have been instrumental in getting our project off the ground and are currently acting as our fiscal sponsor.
First Nations Development Institute
First Nations Development Institute improves economic conditions for Native Americans through direct financial grants, technical assistance & training, and advocacy & policy work. FNDI has generously provided our first partial grant under their Native Arts Initiative.