50 years ago: Mayoral candidates campaign on better relations with tribe

Back in 1967, the Navajo people had a mixed relationship with the border towns that existed right outside their doorstep.

Older Navajos, for the most part, enjoyed going to Gallup, Farmington, and other border towns, accepting the fact that they may not be treated as well as they should have been. Very few Navajos were employed in Gallup stores at the time and Navajo customers felt they were not treated as nicely as stores treated non-Navajos.

But while the Navajo elders tolerated the conditions, many of their grandchildren did not and a movement began, started by Navajo teenagers who wanted to promote change and better conditions for Navajos who traveled off the reservation to shop there.

This was still, however, a couple of years in the future and leaders in Gallup, for the most part, still played down any talk of racism by Gallup businessmen and spoke of the good relations the Navajo people had with the town.

This is very evident in elections, which were going on in Gallup at that time for mayor. Both of the candidates for the position, Wally Leach, a former editor for the Gallup Independent, and Ray Erwin, an accountant, approached the Navajo Times and asked for the paper’s endorsement.

Chet Macrorie, the paper’s editor, turned them both down, pointing out that the paper was owned by the Navajo tribe and for the paper to endorse them, it would be the same as the tribe doing it and the tribe’s position was to stay out of the affairs of the border communities unless it directly affected the Navajo people on the reservation.

Leach told the Navajo Times that he felt the Navajos needed to have some kind of representation in the city government.

After all, at that time, Navajos made up about 10 percent of the city’s 18,000 population (the figure now is close to 40 percent of the city’s 22,000 population) and that number was far outweighed by the number of Navajo people who live in areas surrounding the city.

Erwin agreed that the Navajo population needed to be heard.

“What benefits Gallup benefits the Navajo people in this area and what benefits the Navajo people benefits the city of Gallup,” he said.

Erwin added that he was “dismayed” at the way the present city administration was treating Navajos who came to the city to shop or visit friends.

Both Erwin and Leach agreed that if they were elected, they would work to bring about better relations with the tribal government and the Navajo people.

Erwin would win that election and within a year of being in office, he would have to deal with the start of a series of protests by young Navajos upset about the same thing he said he was upset about during his campaign. By that time, however, Erwin found himself aligned with most of the businessmen in Gallup who fought back at making any type of change in the way they had been treating the Navajo people.

Speaking of changes between the way the Navajo Times is now compared to the way it was some 50 years ago, the Navajo Times was more liberal, I guess you could say, on what they considered to be news.

It wasn’t uncommon for the paper to print a poem or two written on some Navajo or Indian theme and almost every issue included one or more jokes, some of which would probably be considered racist today.

Here is one of the jokes reprinted from Macrorie’s weekly column – the Times also used jokes as fillers.

“A Navajo moved from his hogan to a house. He had a passion for yellow, so he let loose in painting his unfurnished home. He painted the house yellow, the bedroom yellow, the living room yellow, the bathroom yellow. He then caught yellow jaundice.

A PHS doctor was called and went to the man’s room to look him over. Soon he came back downstairs looking puzzled. The man’s wife asked if there was anything the doctor could do for the sick man.

‘Do for him?’ the doctor said. ‘I haven’t been able to find him.’”

Another big difference is that except for the front page and the editorial page, almost all of the articles in the paper were press releases or reprints.

After being in existence for more than five years as a newspaper, the Times still could not afford to hire a full-time reporter and almost all of the local stories were written by the editor.

The paper did use local photographs but most of these were supplied by organizations that wanted to publicize an event or someone they were honoring. Almost all of the photos had someone looking straight at the camera or a group of people looking at the camera.

The paper, by that time, did have a sports page usually consisting of a couple of stories based on press releases sent by a school. It usually included a picture of the team with each member posed looking straight at the camera.

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

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Categories: 50 Years Ago

About Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.