Dine Bikeyah: Environment, Cultural Identity, and Gender in Navajo Country

EPA Grant Number: U915164
Title: Dine Bikeyah: Environment, Cultural Identity, and Gender in Navajo Country
Investigators: Weisiger, Marsha L.
Institution: University of Wisconsin - Madison
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 1997 through December 31, 2000
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Fellowship - Environmental History , Tribal Environmental Health Research , Academic Fellowships


The objective of this research project is to explore the ways in which livestock pastoralism shaped the area of the Colorado Plateau known as Dine Bikeyah (Navajo Country). At the heart of this study is the New Deal effort to halt accelerated soil erosion by drastically reducing the number of sheep, goats, and horses grazing the Dine range. I examine the epistemological differences between the Dine (Navajos) and scientists with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), which posed obstacles to developing a workable range-management program. I explore whether the range management program introduced by the SCS led to further degradation of the range.


By reconstructing a detailed picture of the ecological changes wrought by grazing and by focusing on multicultural land use, I hope to create a more textured picture of this region of mesas and canyons. Moreover, I scrutinize the environmental effects of the federal land-management program itself, and examine the hypothesis offered by Dine observers that the disruption of transhumant patterns may be at least partly to blame for the degraded condition of the range today. I also explore the ways in which livestock grazing shaped Dine cultural and gender identities and the ways in which the federal livestock program transformed those patterns. I hope to refocus the way we think about the Dine by looking through the lens of a matrilineal, matrilocal society and exploring the implications for women posed by changes in the pastoral economy, increases in wealth stratification, and the decimation of livestock herds. I base my analysis on ethnographic reports and field notes, oral histories and traditional Dine stories, government records, range studies, published archeological studies, ecological theory, and anthropological theory. Moreover, I have explored the Dine range itself, both during the severe drought of 1996 and the unusually rainy season of 1997, to try to understand what the land might reveal about the history of the area.

Expected Results:

I offer a narrative history with the following thesis: Livestock grazing became so intertwined with Dine cultural and gender identities that drastic changes in economic patterns threatened to unravel the entire culture. Unfortunately, New Deal conservationists failed to understand the cultural implications of their program, and implemented their policies with such gross insensitivity that Dine continue to reject conservation measures that echo those of the 1930s. The result is a more degraded range.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, environmental policy, land use, grazing, environmental justice, culture, Dine Bikeyah, Navajo, soil conservation, soil erosion

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999
  • 2000
  • Final