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Climate change affects tradition among Navajo sheep herders

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Las Vegas photographer John Locher and climate reporter Melina Walling teamed up for a pair of richly told stories and stunning visuals that revealed how climate change, generational shifts and other issues are impacting the Navajo tradition of herding sheep and the art of weaving using the animals’ wool. Over the last several years, Locher has told many stories of the megadrought that has gripped the Western U.S. for more than two decades. He decided to explore how drought may be affecting the Navajo Nation reservation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Lochner learned that sheep herding, a central part of Navajo culture, was in decline because of water issues. Lochner found a 15-year-old video of Jay Begay, a sheep herder. Lochner sought him out, meeting him in person, which led to other meetings over the course of a year, including with Nikyle Begay, a transgender sheep herder and wool weaver. Lochner went to a Miss Navajo pageant that had several sheep-related events. Walling joined Lochner for the pageant and began meeting, by phone and in person, the people Lochner had met. The result was two stories that took readers to the heart of Navajo Nation. The first looked at how climate change, generational shifts and other issues affecting tradition. The second, which moved a day later, focused on Nikyle Begay and the art of weaving wool.

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