50 Years Ago: ‘Redskins’ consider selling liquor to ‘palefaces’

Even for the Navajo Times, the headline on the front page was somewhat unusual – “Pale-Face Tourism Program Brings Glow to Redskins.”

Yes, they used the R-word, but remember this was a different time and era when terms like “palefaces” and “redskins” were not considered politically incorrect.

The story itself focused on a two-day tourism conference hosted by Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai that he hoped would spearhead a new direction for the tribe to take in getting more non-Indians to come to the reservation to visit the sites and learn about Navajo culture.

He said when he went to meetings off the reservation he saw a lot of interest among non-Indians about the way the Navajo people lived and there was a belief that the Navajos had discovered the secret to living happily in communion with Nature.

About 50 years ago was the time that the younger generation began coming to the reservation in their hippy clothes and actively began seeking to live the Navajo lifestyle, something that would continue for almost the next decade.

Political groups in places like San Francisco began coming to places on the reservation like Big Mountain to support the Navajo way of life and many would stay for weeks.
According to people who worked in the Nakai administration, Nakai wasn’t thrilled about seeing the young non-Indian men and women converging on the reservation and living with Navajo families in more remote chapters.

The reason was simple: He didn’t trust them.

He thought the reason why many of them were attracted to the reservation was because of new congressional laws that allowed the Navajos and other tribes to use peyote in religious ceremonies.

In his first administration, Nakai had championed the cause of the Native American Church in its efforts to use peyote in its ceremonies at a time when peyote was illegal in the non-Indian community.

He brought this up at that tourist convention in passing, saying that while the Navajos wanted to attract non-Indians to the reservation to create more jobs and provide more opportunities for Navajo craftspeople to sell their products, he wondered what benefits the young non-Indians brought to the table.

Most lacked funds so they basically lived off the land and while they may have bought arts and crafts it was usually the less expensive variety.

On the other hand, their efforts to become a part of the culture in many cases would get them invited to peyote ceremonies and Nakai was afraid that if the federal government learned that non-Indians were being welcomed into the peyote ceremonies, it would create a backlash in Congress and the Indian people could see their right to use peyote taken away.

He seemed to worry about this a lot because he would even caution Navajos to be careful how and when they used peyote because under the rules approved by Congress, it could only be used by members of tribes in traditional ceremonies.

Use outside this would even get Navajos arrested and Nakai urged NAC members to be very careful.

Another issue came up at that tourism convention. It was one thing to get people to come and visit the reservation but it was something different to get them to stay overnight because there were few hotels or motels on the reservation.

So most visitors to the reservation would return to the border towns at night and eat and stay there, giving the border towns a good chunk of their vacation money.

Nakai wanted to change that and when the Holiday Inn was built in Kayenta in the 1960s, there was talk going around that Nakai had promised the owners that he would sponsor legislation that would allow them to sell liquor with meals.

One of the reasons the Holiday Inn was built was to attract conventions that wanted to give their members a unique opportunity to experience the Navajo culture but this wouldn’t happen if the people going to the convention wouldn’t have access to liquor.

There was a story going around that when the hotel was first built, the design had a room set aside that could be converted into a bar on the day the Council agreed to allow liquor sales.

Nakai privately said he supported this but publicly he had to continue to be opposed to any liquor sales on the reservation because he felt it would cost him votes.
So while there was talk of legislation to allow places like the Holiday Inn to provide liquor to their patrons, it never happened.

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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.