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Flocks of Grace honors late Diné grandmother by shearing 134 sheep over Mother’s Day weekend

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Many in the U.S. may celebrate Mother’s Day with brunch, flowers or a card. But every Mother’s Day weekend, one Navajo family has a more hands-on observance, filled with hard hard work to help preserve a centuries-old Diné custom that’s in decline today.

Family and friends from as far as Germany traveled to the Navajo Nation, the largest U.S. reservation, to shear 134 Navajo-Churro sheep in two days.

The group is called Flocks of Grace, named by Navajo sisters Denise Rosales and Lori Curley of Cameron, who have kept the tradition going.

It’s a tribute to their late grandmother Grace Tsinnie Yellowmexican, who passed away in 2017.

“Our flock started growing and growing, and our grandmother was so obsessed,” said Rosales, who explained that raising sheep was not only for mutton or wool, but once seen as a status symbol on the reservation.

But now, Curley shared it’s their way of simply remembering her.

“I was waiting for her to come around in that gold truck,” said Curley, “and then just stare at us from over there, make sure we’re doing it right.”

The Churro were the first domesticated sheep in the New World and were brought to the Diné in the Southwest during conquests by the Spanish.

Estimates indicate that Navajo-Churro sheep numbers have dwindled to some 8,000 on the sprawling 27,000-square-mile reservation spanning Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.