In Tse’hootsooi – the valley between the mountains – SHIMA’ is a creative sanctuary. They hand-make their soaps on the 7200 foot-high Colorado Plateau of northern Arizona, between the four sacred mountains, in the heart of Navajoland.
SHIMA’ of Navajoland is the social enterprise business of Good Shepherd Mission and the Episcopal Church in Navajoland. Located in the Four Corners of the Southwest, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet, the Episcopal Church in Navajoland serves and ministers to the social and physical needs of the Navajo People (Dine’).
The Navajo Nation is a tribal, sovereign nation within the U.S. The Episcopal Church in Navajoland spans a territory the size of New England, catering to the needs of the wider Navajo community with church services and social services – especially addiction and recovery programs, job training, employment, Navajo language classes, affordable housing and healthy food initiatives.
To maintain all of these programs, the organization was relying heavily on grants and was looking for a more stable income stream. With lots of land, buildings to house cottage industries and motivated people who needed employment, this past summer they started three initiatives all under the umbrella of SHIMA’ (which means mother earth in the Navajo language): they started a handmade soap business, grew fields of blue corn on two of their missions (Arizona and Utah), and started raising bees. SHIMA’ is also building a commercial kitchen to process honey and blue corn meal and to rent out to other budding food entrepreneurs, as well as training Navajo youth as farmers, beekeepers and soap-makers.
The social enterprise currently sells soaps, seeds and farm products and native fleece blankets on its website. SHIMA’ of Navajoland takes the best of ancient Navajo traditions and creates beauty through hand-made soap, body and wellness products. Some Navajo medicine is sung in Ceremony, in the Hogan, with medicine men and women. Before each ceremony, they wash to prepare themselves for the healing to come. In this way, creating soaps that cleanse, purify, lift spirits and communicate with the Holy is part of their ancient culture. Like their ancestors before them, SHIMA’ of Navajoland gathers local sacred plants – corn, sage, cedar, Navajo tea – and infuses their vitality to nurture skin.
Through their growing businesses, SHIMA’ of Navajoland empowers the Navajo People to celebrate their cultural heritage as a source of pride, inspiration and livelihood. As Rev. Cynthia Hizer, the organization’s Canon for Development and Social Enterprise, puts it, “our goal for our organization is sovereignty – making our own money, making our own money decisions, and becoming the ministers to our own people. With this sovereignty comes self-determination and dignity, and a new story of pride to pass on to our children.”