Diné Women in Agriculture and the Importance of Our Water

Rain gauge and native grasses

By Leiloni Begaye

 Yá’át’ééh / Greetings, my relatives near and far, my name is Leiloni Begaye. I am from the Coyote Pass Jemez clan. I am born for the Water Flow Together clan. My maternal grandfather is from the Red Running into the Water clan. My paternal grandfather is from the Red Bottom clan. I am from Dinétah in western terms the Navajo Nation from a community of Díwózhii Biiʼ Tó (Greasewood Springs) in Arizona. This is how I present myself as a Diné woman.

We, as Indigenous communities are connected to all living entities and that includes our to’ (water). Water is the sustenance of everything that lives around us, and not only contributes to our bodies, but to our beliefs as well. Our farm and ranch is currently in a recharge zone near the ephemeral Pueblo Colorado Wash and historically the reason why our family chose to farm and ranch in its current location. Through the ever-changing environment, our water source like many Indigenous communities began to change. However, the Pueblo Colorado Wash is an alluvial aquifer that recharges seasonally, that when walking through the rangeland it still has its historical water catchment zones where water will run and bring life to native rangeland plants such as the Blue Grama, Indian Ricegrass, and Sideoats Grama. Our late matriarch was a rancher and farmer who led our family’s legacy and passed down her knowledge and wisdom. Matriarchy from Diné perspective is a woman who leads and makes hard decisions for her family, not only determining their diets but also through challenges beyond her control, such as severe droughts and unexpected weather changes impacting the environment and ecosystems around the communities. 

For every plant and animal that were harvested, my maternal and paternal grandmothers always offered a prayer so the plants, animals and all living entities can be replenished. For every meal prepared, a prayer is offered so we as five-finger beings can be blessed with a good healthy life. My traditional upbringing instilled a great appreciation for my culture, language and how we, as Diné people, utilize To’. As a Diné woman who is inspired by my elders, my focus is not only depended on food resiliency or rotational grazing methods but also includes the environmental impacts, and being a part of the dialogue of improving our watersheds which are the veins of mother earth.

In August 2019, our family installed a rain gauge after attending a presentation and training provided by Helena Deswood, Tribal Coordinator for Southwest Climate Hub. We are now observers in the CoCoRaHS Network. We have been entering our daily precipitation data which is important in regards to filling the data gap for our community. Our observed data has been utilized by U.S. Drought Monitor maps,  National Weather Service, and others. Furthermore, the precipitation data gathered from our gauge will continue to help us in the long-term decision making and in our efforts to conserve natural resources. Today, we are still utilizing our Diné protocols and philosophy as land stewards and conservationists. 

Ahé'héé / Thank You!