50 years ago

Old guard reps ask BIA to remove Nakai

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

Aug. 14, 2014

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Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai told his supporters on the Council that he wasn't worried about an attempt underway by tribal members to remove him from office.

"This is coming from only a few individuals who are being used by certain members of the Council who want Paul Jones back in office," Nakai said. Jones was the man Nakai defeated to become chairman two years before.

Well, it wasn't just a few tribal members. A petition with 3,470 signatures on it, asking for the ouster of Nakai and his vice chairman, Nelson Damon, was turned over to the BIA.

Agency Superintendent Glenn Landbloom said he received a letter signed by eight members of the tribe -- Ed Natay, Watson Gibson, Wilson Skeet, Hoskie Cronoyer, Evangeline Wyaco, Charlie Toledo and Roberta Thomson -- asking Landbloom to do his duty and remove Nakai immediately. An eighth name on the letter was unreadable.

All identified themselves as members of the old guard who felt that Nakai was destroying the reputation of the Navajo people and had become an embarrassment to the tribe and its people.

"Landbloom said he has no authority in the matter and that any initial action would have to come from the tribal council," the Navajo Times reported.

It turned out that Landbloom met with the letter signers prior to making the public announcement and had urged them to drop the matter. They had no chance of actually removing Nakai since it took a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the Council to impeach Nakai and then only if they could prove "just cause."

He also pointed out that he had received petitions about Nakai before, some with even more signatures on them, praising the work Nakai was doing for the Navajo people.

The old guard had a majority on the Council but only by a couple of votes so impeachment was not a possibility.

After the meeting, the eight decided to make the petitions public in the hopes that by doing so it would force the BIA to take action.

The articles printed about the attempt said this was the first time the BIA had been asked to remove a chairman although there had been petitions circulated in the 1930s and early 40s against chairmen and members of the Council for working with the BIA to force reduction of Navajo livestock.

Interesting enough, it would be about 1978 before the BIA would once again be given petitions from Council delegates and tribal members asking for the removal of then-chairman Peter MacDonald. BIA officials at that time would also say they had no authority to do it.

Speaking of the BIA, officials of the General Accounting Office were on the Navajo Reservation this week investigating reports that the BIA was mismanaging tribal trust funds.

Although William Parker, assistant director of civil accounting for the GAO, told the media that this was just a "routine review," newspaper accounts hinted that this may be something a little more and that Chairman Nakai may have pressured the GAO to investigate whether Norman Littell, the tribe's controversial general counsel, had been properly representing the tribe.

Parker, when questioned about this, said the Littell situation, which pitted Nakai against the old guard on the Council, would "be an incidental part of the investigation."

It turned out that the investigation really had nothing to do with the Littell-Nakai fight but stemmed from pressure put on the agency by Republican U.S. Sen. Edwin L. Mechem.

Mechem was an admitted foe of the BIA and had issued complaints about the way it was being run on numerous occasions. He would bring up various complaints about the BIA whenever the Senate held budget talks. This time he was zeroing in on the BIA's operations on the Navajo Reservation, pointing out that it had been at least 20 years since anyone reviewed the work the BIA was doing in managing its trust responsibilities.

Parker, when asked if there was any particular area he planned to look into, said, "I am not at liberty to discuss the content of the discussions but Sen. Mechem is deeply concerned."

Mechem also refused to go into details about his concerns.

For what it is worth, Sam Billison, who also lost to Nakai in his bid to be chairman of the tribe, issued a statement condemning Nakai for firing Pat Nelson as the tribe's police chief in July.

"Since Mr. Nelson has been terminated, the Navajo police were withdrawn from the Gallup Ceremonial, riots occurred in Pinon last weekend, many young officers went to resign from the force, a number of police officers have been hired without allocations on the tribal budget and Paul Jones was hired as a juvenile officer without his knowledge," Billison said.

After Gallup protested plans by the tribal police not to provide officers to help with security at the Ceremonial, the tribe relented and provided 40 officers.

This was the only mention of a riot in Pinon. The tribe did not issue any information about this and Jones, who served as chairman before Nakai, never worked for the tribe under Nakai.

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