Oral Histories

Merv Lawton

b.1922

Merv Lawton

Q: Any thoughts about returning or trying to do it again?

A: No, no, I wouldn’t do it again. I did my share.

Q: But now you’re sort of into agriculture?

A: Sort of, yeah, sheep. Because Sam had the idea of raising sheep, the Navajo Churro sheep. Now let’s go back a little bit in history.

The Spanish brought the Churro sheep from Spain when they came over here. They brought them over for food, meat, and also for their wool. The Navajo people were very interested in these sheep and they adopted these sheep because they had such lovely wool to enable them to do the spinning and weaving of their Navajo rugs and saddle blankets. So a lot of these sheep were, shall I say, adopted by the Navajos. I don’t know what the terms were, how they got them. They may have bought some, they may have been given some, I certainly think they probably stole some. But there were a lot of Navajo Churro sheep and families were looking after these sheep. The young kids, boys and girls, were being the shepherds, to look after the sheep in the field. The mothers or grandmothers would be the weavers and when what we call the “Big March” down to Bosco Redondo a lot of the sheep got lost. They either got left behind or they died on the trip. Later, when they were there at Bosco Redondo, there were quite a few sheep there in a very small area so there was overgrazing. Well, the government went in. I think it was the army that was actually the culprit. They went in and slaughtered these sheep because of the overgrazing so the Navajo Churro became an endangered species in the country. Families that had had sheep before didn’t have them anymore. Sam’s idea, which I agreed with, was that we would get Navajo Churro sheep, raise them, find families where the grandmothers and mothers were weavers and wanted sheep again, and we would give them sheep. We would give them maybe one ram and four or five ewes so that they could get going again. The kids could go back to their culture of looking after sheep as opposed to some of the ideas of the government of having them…one was beekeeping, another was fish farms. There’s very little water on the reservation and I don’t know how they were going to have a fish farm! But we felt that getting back to their old cultural ways of the kids looking after the sheep and the mothers and the grandmothers getting back into weaving…

Q: Who pays you for the sheep? Does it come out of your pocketbook?

A: Yeah, we will give to the Navajo… we do recover a bit of money for meat, but the wool, we give them.

Q: Was the RC&D involved in this? (Resource Conservation and Development)

A: The RC&D is, you know, shall I say, supportive of us. It’s one of the things that the RC&D is involved in.

Q: So they give you some funds?

A: No, they don’t give us any funds. They haven’t got that money.

Q: Are you satisfied here? Would you rather be in South Africa or Canada?

A: South Africa still has political problems. And people are not happy in South Africa, the white people. It’s a multicultural place now that apartheid is no longer in force in the existing government. Prior to them getting into power they were making promises to the rest of the Natives, the black people, that if they got elected then the black people would be equal to the white. They would have nice homes to live in. They would get into high positions in industry. And that never really turned out. It wasn’t really practical because they didn’t have the training for that. But they never got what had been promised to them. There’s been a lot of almost fighting taking place because they are not getting what was promised to them. It wasn’t promised by the white people, the Europeans, the Dutch and the English but by their own leaders. And jobs are hard to get for the black people. There was a degree of black people from the countries around South Africa coming into South Africa but when the new government came in, control dropped away, so tremendous numbers of black people came into South Africa looking for jobs. They basically flooded the market. So they don’t have anything. They don’t have jobs therefore they don’t have money so what do they do? They steal. On my last trip to South Africa we went through Johannesburg and to see all the homes around Johannesburg. Ten foot high brick walls and electrified fencing on top of the walls or razor barb wire to prevent people getting in. There’s always someone poorer than you and he will try to steal from the man who’s got something. Even Mandela’s house was protected in that way in Johannesburg.

Coming to Moab was like going around in a big circle. South Africa, southern hemisphere, it’s summertime there when it’s wintertime here. It was a warm country. From there I went to Ontario, a little bit colder. From there I went to northern Saskatchewan, very cold in winter. Then I was moved from northern Saskatchewan down to Moab. And that was like coming around in a circle. We found the same plants, the same kind of birds as we had in South Africa. House sparrows, for example, ravens, eagles. Different models of eagles, you know different model of the raven. We had more crows actually than ravens.

Q: So are you sort of back home?

A: Yeah, very much so, it’s back home. The weeds, you’ve got the same weeds in the garden. Goatheads.

Q: Goatheads?

A: Yeah we have goatheads there and we have goatheads here.

Q: Tumbleweed?

A: No, we didn’t have tumbleweed. You know and the flowers, in the flower gardens, we have the same flowers here as we had in South Africa. Very different from what you have up in Canada

Read the other Oral Histories