50 years ago: Littell ousted, servicemen get their Times on time



It was 1967 and newly elected chairman Raymond Nakai would soon have a new tribal council that, for the first time while in office, he would be able to control.

Yes, things were looking up for him and the good news just kept on coming.

Norman Littell

Norman Littell, the former general counsel for the tribe who worked to strip Nakai of all of his powers during the former administration, had been removed the previous year by Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Interior, who said he was sick and tired of all the infighting that was going on within the Navajo tribe and thought firing Littell would get rid of a lot of it.

Instead of giving up, however, Littell decided to fight to save his $35,000-a-year contract and sued Udall in federal court, saying he didn’t have the authority to fire him – only the tribal council did, and since the council was run at that time by the Old Guard who hated Nakai, he felt his job with the Navajos was safe.

Littell would lose the fight in district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals, so he took it to the U.S. Supreme Court in a battle that probably cost him more than he made in a year from the tribe.

But as he said to the Associated Press, this was a matter of principle, so he kept fighting.

The Supreme Court decided the first week of 1967 that it wasn’t interested in getting involved in the fight between him and Udall, so they rejected hearing the case. Which meant that the appeals court verdict that Udall had the right to fire Littell stood.

The Times covered the story on its front page, citing officials of the Old Guard who said they were “dismayed” over the decision.

The statement the Times printed said basically that no one who believed in the rights of a tribal government to make its own decision would be able to accept that decision.

The good thing about all of this is that it ended Littell’s involvement in tribal affairs.

One thing that hasn’t been brought up in this column, but should have, is something that probably would have had a big effect on the running of the Navajo Times in 1967.

Once he gained total power in the tribal government, Nakai would use his power to gain some control over the operations of the tribal paper by putting someone in who would stop printing articles in the paper that made him look bad.

And he was able to do this because of one simple fact – the paper was losing money each year and the tribal government had to subsidize it.

From statements made over the years by Chet MacRorie, the former managing editor, in the 1970s when he came back on as editor of the paper under Peter MacDonald, the Times lost between $30,000 and $50,000 a year during the 1960s, which although was not a lot, it was still something that could be used against any editor the chairman didn’t like or wanted to remove.

It was the reason why the paper was unable to get the council to give it enough funds to hire a reporting staff and photographers.

“Make a profit, and we’ll give you more funds,” the council would say during budgetary hearings.

So the paper struggled along and it wasn’t until MacDonald came on in 1971 that the council began loosening up its purse strings and giving the paper more funds to hire reporters and even a photographer.

The Times also reported in January 1967, that a new law would make the newspaper more relevant to the many Navajos who were now serving overseas and were getting the paper delivered to them.

The paper had been receiving complaints from many servicemen who subscribed to the paper that it took weeks and sometimes a month or two before they would receive their papers.

In fact, a couple of the servicemen wrote in letters to the editor that they received news of the outcome of the Nakai-Billison chairman election from letters their friends sent to them, weeks before they received the paper in the mail with the results.

“The good news,” MacRorie wrote in his column in the first week in January, “for the many servicemen on the Times subscription list, President Johnson recently signed into law a new bill which provides for airlifting of newspapers and news magazines from the west coast ports.”

No additional postage is necessary, he said, adding that servicemen should now be able to get the paper within a week of its publication.

Speaking of letters, one of the letters in this week’s paper came from a Daniel Peaches who lived in Flagstaff and who would become one of the most prolific letter writers to the Times in its history.

Peaches, who would later become a chief aide to MacDonald and get elected to the tribal council, would write about anything and everything.

In this letter, he talked about the various revolutions that had occurred in America and the fact that radicalism had never taken hold of the federal government because of all of the safeguards that had been put into place.

He used this to urge that the Navajo government “implement these Democratic principles which ensure stability into our government.”

“Such provisions can be in the form of a constitution, codes, or regulations promulgated by resolutions,” he said.

 To read the full article, pick up your copy of the Navajo Times at your nearest newsstand Thursday mornings!

  Find newsstand locations at this link.

Or, subscribe via mail or online here.

Categories: 50 Years Ago