50 Years Ago

'Startling' proposal to allow alcohol sales

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 28, 2014

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It probably wasn't the best idea in the world but Marshall Tome, editor of the Navajo Times, said it had to be done to save the lives of hundreds of Navajos.

In the Aug. 27, 1964, issue of the paper, Tome made the "startling" proposal that the Navajo government allow sales of alcoholic beverages on the Navajo Reservation.

In 1964, the liquor issue was about as controversial as you could get, given the fact that deaths on the highways going onto the reservation were reaching epic levels.

Tome said he realized that the Navajo people would never agree on anything regarding liquor but something must be done to reduce the number of deaths of U.S Highway 666 between Gallup and Shiprock and State Highway 264 between Yah-Ta-Hey and Ganado.

"Liquor is here to stay and there will always be people who do not drink as well as people who do drink," he said, adding that since liquor is banned on the reservation, Navajos living on the reservation "may have to drive hundreds of miles to get a bottle of wine but they will make that trip."

Tome suggested that the tribe itself sell the liquor, pointing out that not only would this save lives but the tribe would be able to make a profit by bringing in a new source of income, which then could be used to help Navajos with alcohol problems.

He pointed out that this is what the Jicarilla Apaches have done and they think the venture has saved a lot of lives on their reservation.

Of course, Tome's remarks, which created some buzz, didn't convince anyone in the tribal government because even then coming out in favor of liquor sales on the reservation was considered the easiest way to kill a political career.

The Times, in a front-page article, showcased the fact that for the first time in its history, the Navajo Police department hired its first college graduate.

Albert Harvey had been hired as a police lieutenant for the 172-man tribal police force. Harvey had worked for the department for a year before he entered the armed services.

"Harvey will be joined shortly," said John Anderson, the department's acting superintendent, "by Peterson Zah, another college graduate."

This marked the first time that Zah's name was mentioned in the Navajo Times.

"Anderson said Zah will go to work as soon as the personnel department can process the paper work," the paper reported.

The war between the old guard and supporters of Raymond Nakai took a new turn this week.

The anti-Nakai forces passed a resolution on Sept. 4, 1964, appointing a new Advisory Committee, one made up of almost entirely members of the anti-Nakai faction on the Council, which then stripped him of some of his power to get his programs through the Council.

The question was whether this was done legally and that would have to be decided by the secretary of the Interior who still had the ultimate power to veto any action by the Council or its committees.

There were some on the Council, however, who questioned whether the Interior secretary had to be involved. But Phileo Nash, commissioner of Indian affairs, said, "In the long run, everything has to have the approval of the secretary."

Aides to Nakai said he would fight this. They pointed out that the Council's Advisory Committee, in some ways, had more power than the Council since anything that went to it first had to go to the committee.

This selection process would ultimately be changed to give the chairman the power to appoint whomever he wanted to the committees, something that would give Peter MacDonald Sr. sole authority over practically every aspect of the tribal government when he was elected chairman in 1970.

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