Diiji Nida'iil'ah (Today, We Butcher): A Study of Navajo Traditional Sheep Butchering

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University of California, Davis, 2016
Grounded within the practice and philosophy Dibé éí Diné be' iiná át'é (Sheep Is Life), this dissertation explores the nuances and variations of Diné (Navajo) sheep butchering techniques, stories, and philosophies in order to understand how sheep actively co-construct Diné identities, histories, and ways of sensing the world, even during the dismembering process of butchering. Demonstrating the significance of mountain sheep prior to the Spanish arrival to Diné people and understanding of how Diné individuals relate to domesticated sheep in the contemporary, this study challenges: (a) research of sheep as a mere economic/ecological subject, (b) studies of Diné pastoralism as a practice of domination, and (c) scholarship that treats sheep as a foreign object introduced alongside Spanish colonialism. In addition to the study of Diné sheep butchering, this dissertation implements traditional butchering practices as an analytic framework, creating dialogue with previous Western research in accordance to Diné ways of sensing the world. In this manner, much as every part of a dismembered sheep is repurposed, this dissertation addresses how the butchering of sheep allows for the dissolution and reconfiguration of Western knowledges and previous academic research. Similar to the varied butchering techniques and distinct relationships with sheep throughout Navajoland, the simultaneous dismembering/re-membering process allow for dialogue between these variations and with decolonizing practices. Ultimately, maintaining sheep as the axis of this project will allow for previously marginalized or ignored Native intellectualism to actively respond to the legacies of colonialism through a process of healing facilitated through both Western and Diné education systems.

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