Drought and desertification caused by climate change are threatening traditional ways of life in the Navajo Nation, but local ranchers are determined to hold on. Long-dependable rains “every year around June, July, August,” filled Leonard and Maybelle Sloan’s stock ponds from which their animals could drink during the dry season, but “now due to global warming, we don’t get no rain, just a little,” Leonard told Reuters. The Sloans are now forced to spend $80 per week to haul water (or more when their truck isn’t running) and $3,000-$4,000 per year on hay to feed their animals as the open range no longer produces enough grass to support them.

Droughts on the reservation have become relentless since the mid-1990s and sand dunes now cover about a third of the reservation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Drought caused by climate change is harming farmers all around the world. Although Maybelle knows she could potentially make more money by focusing on cattle and giving up her sheep and goats, she is determined to continue herding sheep, which she learned from her mother, and her grandmother before her. Both her parents, along with her sister, died from COVID-19 in April. Despite centuries of institutional racism and the U.S. government breaking and neglecting treaties, many youth in the Navajo Nation support and keep up ranching traditions. “Us Indians, we don’t give up really easy,” Maybelle said. “We’re really determined people.” (Reuters; Climate Signals drought background)