Location and Demographics
Encompassing over 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, the Navajo Nation (NN) is the geographically largest Native American nation in the U.S. With 256,712 enrolled members, it is the second largest in population; 175,228 Navajos reside within the Nation's boundaries. This is a 3.5 times increase over the 50,000 people who lived on the Nation's 17 million acres in 1940 and marketed 300,000 lambs annually. (Data from the 2000 US Census, provided by the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development.)
The Navajo Nation is divided into 110 Chapters (local governance units), grouped into five Agencies (administrative districts). Kayenta is the only incorporated township. Most population centers are clusters of housing around schools, hospitals, trading posts, and chapter houses. Distances are vast and the road conditions are rough on any vehicle. According to the NDED, NN unemployment is 44 percent, the median family income is $11,885, and the per
capita income is $6,217.
Over 56 percent of Navajos live below the poverty level, the highest overty rate in the U.S., even among American Indians. At the same time, 68 percent of Navajo onies are spent in off-reservation communities. Of the 676 private businesses, only 35 percent are Navajo-owned. Navajo Nation government offices account for an additional 146 employers. Data from the 2000 US Census.)
The NNDED estimates that Navajos generate over $45 million per year in the infonnal economy. Much of this undocumented income is derived from family-based agriculture and agricultural products, such as selling mutton sheep and raw wool. While data paint a picture of poverty and desolation, Navajos enjoy a rich cultural, spiritual, and quotidian life based on small-scale. farming and ranching. These human strengths, traditionallifeways, knowledge, values, and resources are the foundation for DBI's programs.
Although the number of sheep producers nationwide has dropped precipitously, according to Gerald Moore, Navajo Extension Partnership, over 35 percent of Navajo families still raise heep, and in some chapters it is close to 100 percent. Especially in the more remote chapters, most families still derive the majority of their income from sheep, wool, and fiber products. According to a 1997 survey by the Navajo Extension Partnership, of those who sell weavings made from wool, only about 12 percent use their own wool due to challenges of access to resources for appropriate methods that suit their processing requirements. With the interest in locally-raised and natural agricultural products, range-fed Navajo livestock and Navajo-grown wool and wool products have the characteristics desired for niche marketing. Well designed marketing strategies can take advantage of this potential to increase economic return for Dine sheep and goat producers. In 2002, the Navajo-Churro was inducted into the international Slow Foods Ark of Taste. Interest form the general public in hand-made products that are grown sustainably and support local traditions are opportunities for value-added Navajo sheep, wool, and fiber arts to reach sophisticated audiences in lucrative niche markets.