50 years ago: Nakai far overestimates inauguration attendance


Those tribal members who are 70 and over will surely remember the events that took place this week 50 years ago.

On Feb. 21, 1967, Raymond Nakai was sworn in for the second time as chairman of the Navajo Tribe and he wanted this to be the biggest and grandest inauguration in tribal history.

Of course, it was to be broadcast live on radio stations in Gallup, Farmington and even Flagstaff, and Nakai’s people told the media a couple of days before the event that 850 “special invitations” had been sent out to people all over Indian Country to come and witness the event.

On the day before the inauguration, tribal officials were expecting as many as 10,000 people to show up at the Window Rock Civic Center. Besides Nakai and his vice-chairman Nelson Damon, all 74 members of the tribal council were to be sworn in at the same time.

Arizona’s governor, Jack Williams, as well as the governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, said they would be there. U.S. Sen. Clinton Anderson (D-N. M.) said he wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The tribe was planning to host the biggest barbecue in its history after the ceremonies with enough food to feed 12,000 people (apparently they were expecting 2,000 people to show up just for the free food).

That night a special banquet was being planned at Gallup High School for 900 people who had special invitations to attend that event.

Nakai, according to his aides (he still wasn’t speaking to the Navajo Times) was “extremely pleased” at how well the plans were going for his second inauguration. At 48, Nakai was saying he was planning at last two more inaugurations after this one.

So how many people actually showed up?

The Times wouldn’t make a guess but said it was far short of the 10,000 Nakai hoped for. The Gallup Independent was a little braver and said in its headline 5,000 attended. Among the no-shows was Cargo who said he had too much state business on his agenda to attend the event but he sent a representative.

Williams was there with his wife, telling the press that this was the first time he had ever attended a Native inauguration and he was impressed. He said he had to leave early in order to greet U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey at a dinner that evening.

The Times and other media commented on the high security at the event with tribal police scattered around the crowd and even on the platform not far from Nakai in case anything crazy happened (it didn’t).

There was some fear that Nakai’s opposition — the so-called Old Guard — would create some kind of disturbance at the event but apparently few opposition member even showed up for the inauguration. As for the banquet, the opposition held its own banquet honoring those members of the Old Guard who would be stepping down from the council.

But politics did raise its head during the day with leaders of the Old Guard saying nothing  was going to change in the new administration because they still had a two-member majority in the council and they were still committed to rejecting any of Nakai’s programs and proposals.

The Times questioned those numbers, in part because Nakai had been going around saying with confidence that he had a five-member majority in the council and he had no fear anymore of the Old Guard. Both estimates were off but Nakai’s was closer since he started off with a small majority in the beginning of his second term that seemed to get bigger as his term progressed.

Annie Wauneka and Howard Gorman, leaders in the Old Guard, told the Times that the speech Nakai gave at the inauguration in Navajo had nothing in common with the speech he gave in English. His English speech talked about a lot of the things he planned to do to help the Navajo people but in Navajo, they said, he bragged about what a great leader he was and didn’t mention any of his campaign promises.

The Times was saying that the first test of Nakai’s power would come on Monday when the new council met and set rules for the selection of the 18-member advisory committee, the most important committee on the council.

The Old Guard wanted the selection to be made by the council which would guarantee the Old Guard would have control because they had more members from Arizona which outnumbered the delegates from New Mexico.

But Nakai won the vote 30 to 31 (for some reason 13 delegates didn’t vote) and filled the membership with his supporters.

By the way, the tribe did prepare for 12,000 at the barbeque and according to reports the next day, a lot of families were able to take enough meat home with them to last for a week or more.

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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.