Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

6/1/2004 - 5/31/2005

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Sheep Dreams: Environment, Identity, and Gender in Navajo Country

FAIN: FB-50600-04

Marsha Lee Weisiger
New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, NM 88003-8002)

Sheep Dreams explores the dynamic relationship between Dine (Navajo) pastoralism, cultural identity, and gendered issues of power during the 1930s New Deal. Federal policy-makers responded to an overgrazed range and the threat of accelerated erosion by radically reducing the numbers of Navajo livestock and attempting to revolutionize livestock management, with a market logic. In their haste to respond to an ecological crisis, New Deal conservationists unwittingly made environmental matters worse by failing to appreciate the importance of pastoralism to ethnic identity, women's autonomy, and Dine understandings of nature; by refusing to listen to Navajos' advice in creating the conservation program; and by opening new areas to grazing and restricting traditional seasonal movements of flocks across the land. The consequence is a chronically degraded landscape. Sheep Dreams pays particular attention to the importance of women in the livestock economy, their role in shaping nature, and their resistance to livestock reduction. It also pays particular attention to cultural constructions of nature and the convergence between gender, identity, and environmental change.

Associated Products

Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country (Book)
Title: Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country
Author: Marsha Weisiger
Abstract: The dramatic reduction of livestock on the Navajo Reservation in the 1930s - when hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and horses were killed - was an ambitious attempt by the federal government to eliminate overgrazing on an arid landscape and to better the lives of the people who lived there. Instead, the policy was a disaster, resulting in the loss of livelihood for Navajos - especially women, the primary owners and tenders of the animals - without significant improvement of the grazing lands. Well-intentioned New Dealers made serious errors in anticipating the human and environmental consequences of removing or killing tens of thousands of animals. The result was a rejection of conservation programs and a chronically degraded landscape.
Year: 2009
Publisher: University of Washington Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780295988818


Hal K. Rothman Award
Date: 10/1/2011
Organization: Western History Association
Abstract: Prize for best environmental history of the U.S. West.

Norris and Carol Hundley Prize
Date: 8/1/2010
Organization: American Historical Association, Pacific Coast Branch
Abstract: Prize for most distinguished book on any historical subject published by a historian living in the American West.

Caroline Bancroft Honor Book
Date: 9/1/2010
Organization: Denver Public Library
Abstract: Second place prize for best book on western American history.

Gaspar Perez de Villagra Award
Date: 5/1/2010
Organization: New Mexico Historical Society
Abstract: Outstanding publication in the field of history.

Gendered Injustice: Navajo Livestock Reduction in the New Deal Era (Article)
Title: Gendered Injustice: Navajo Livestock Reduction in the New Deal Era
Author: Marsha Weisiger
Abstract: Navajo livestock reduction illuminates the gendered politics of conservation and the crucial contribution of women in resisting environmental injustice. In developing programs to halt soil erosion on the Navajo Reservation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Soil Conservation Service made matters worse, largely because they ignored the importance of women as livestock owners. Women’s resistance helped bring an end to stock reduction and meaningful grazing management.
Year: 2007
Primary URL:
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Western Historical Quarterly
Publisher: Western History Association


Oscar O. Winther Award
Date: 10/1/2008
Organization: Western History Association
Abstract: Award for best article published in the previous year of the Western Historical Quarterly.