In this beautiful essay for Emergence Magazine, Diné poet Jake Skeets reflects on his role in butchering a sheep as part of celebrating Kinaałda, the Diné puberty ceremony for a young relative. Skeets finds inspiration in witnessing an elder teach his partner’s sister how to make a traditional recipe and uses the gentle, wise spirit of that educational moment to build his confidence in preparing the animal for the meal.

My role in these ceremonies has slowly begun to shift. I’m no longer a child who simply witnesses but an adult who must participate, and as such it’s important to enter the space with the proper mindset. We don’t think negatively or with anxiety during the next four days. We don’t hesitate or feel unsure about our roles and duties. We enter the space with a lean toward what is beautiful in the world, what is right and balanced. Even writing this essay, I feel compelled to focus on what is working rather than what is not working, because you don’t pair a ceremony like this with more negative assumptions. It is beauty way. It is hope. Some might call it a naïve optimistic hope, but I call it a critical hope.

Sheep represent so much more than food, so food sovereignty itself represents the inherent right of peoples to their own ways of living. “Sheep is life,” as the saying goes. Sheep offer nourishment, clothing, and tools. No part of the sheep is wasted. However, to get this harvest you must tend to the sheep, waking up early every day to ensure their survival. This shepherding gives way to a circle of care and attention that births a way of life. A way of life we have an inherent right to. This is food sovereignty.