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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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It's that time of year again ...


by S.J. Wilson - The Hopi-Navajo Observer


credits: photo: Shearing Sheep at the Sheep Camp


Shearing Sheep at the Sheep CampGRAND FALLS — It seems like only last week that winter winds were blowing in the threat of snow. People in different parts of the country have their own way of marking the change in seasons. Some watch daffodils and irises poke their heads through the ground. Others see the return of seasonal birds.

Now, despite the cold winds that chilled the area last week, Navajos are untying the blades of their shears and giving their sheep and goats their first haircuts of the season.

Elsie and Raymond Phelps of the Grand Falls area invited students of the STAR School out for the morning as they tackled the first of their sheep on the morning of May 10. A charter school for kindergarten through seventh grade, STAR School is located just off the Navajo Reservation near Leupp.

The children stepped from the bus straight an active sheep camp. Raymond Phelps was already halfway into a black Churro ewe.

Guided by Louva Montour, Elsie and Raymond's daughter, the students waded into a sheep corral and overwhelmed the next customer—a white ewe. Some of the children pushed from behind while others steered her along by her horns. She was deftly tied while Phelps flipped the black ewe and started on the other side.

Kids, teachers, and even the bus driver got into the spirit of things—proving the old adage that practice makes perfect—and most of the shearers needed a good deal more practice.

Sam Tso, a cultural consultant and translator for the Arizona Department of Education's Learn and Serve program, admitted that it had been quite awhile since he'd taken on a sheep. Still he earned a Coke with his frybread later for finishing one.

Several students charged back to the bus to get Dan Smith, who piloted the bus, and dragged him into the fun.

"I'm an expert," he said with a grin.

Vikki Tomas, who teaches the third- and fourth-grade class, said that her family's sheep camp no longer shears with the old fashioned scissor-like clippers.

"My mother's sheep are shorn by Mexicans with electric clippers powered by a generator. They even do llamas," Tomas added.

Montour, who also serves as a cultural consultant for the program, had conveyed her parents' invitation to the STAR School Learn and Serve project.

"They were kind of tickled to see the sheep after Sam got done," she teased. "He didn't do it evenly, so they want him to come back and practice some more."

Tso joined in the laughter.

"I was trying to give her a Mohawk," he said with a grin.

"My parents really enjoyed having the kids over," Montour added. "They enjoy having the kids come out to our place because the kids aren't shy, and they make themselves right at home."

Some of the students jumped at the chance to take some snips at the wool. Others practiced on a dried fleece.

While the shearing event progressed, Elsie Phelps prepared Kool-Aid and frybread for the visitors. The students dove gratefully into the snack.

Back at the school, Joseph Monroe said that he liked shearing the sheep, saying that he thought it must feel like getting a haircut. He enjoyed the frybread and playing different games that he and his friends developed while at the Phelps' house.

Tyler Long said that it was his first time to try to shear a sheep and thought the sheep looked scared. But he himself enjoyed the experience.

"I feel really good about being a volunteer and helping my community," Long said.

Justin Johnson said that he too liked helping and doing hard work.

"I liked learning to shear. It was fun and hard," Johnson said. "The frybread was a great reward."

Other students found other things to enjoy on this adventure. Several girls, including Angelica Nelson, enjoyed sorting the vegetables that the group had brought to feed to the goats.

"I mostly liked taking pictures. I would like to be a photographer," said Brandi Becenti.

"It's great to see the children using Service Learning as part of their curriculum. It's a great way to learn about their community and the people who live in it," said Tso. "It goes both ways, the children get to learn from the elderlies, and the elderlies get to appreciate the service learning the children are doing. I think the family that they helped really appreciated the sharing of skills even though it was just a tiny amount of time. They understand that the effort counts. Besides the third and fourth community is at a place where they enjoy what they learn, so it was fun for all of us.

"What a great way to give back to the community. Maybe next year we'll get to learn how to tan a fleece."

Leupp, AZ Map

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