Thursday, March 30, 2023

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50 Years Ago: Beginning of the end for Gallup Indian Center

This week marked the beginning of the end for the Gallup Indian Center. Built more than a decade before by the BIA on land owned by the federal government north of the train tracks in Gallup, the center became the most visited spot in town by Navajos and other Indians.

The center contained the offices for several programs providing benefits to Native Americans. It also provided showers and one of the few places in town where Native Americans could get a drink of water without being required to be a customer of the business. By 1970, however, it was becoming controversial because of its director, Herbert Blatchford, who had come under attack by city officials for helping activists who wanted to make changes in the way Navajos were treated by Gallup businesses.

This was the week that the Gallup Community Fund rejected a request from Blatchford for $27,700 to help defray expenses at the center, giving it only $5,000. Although most of its funding came from the BIA, these funds only provided for the center’s basic services but Blatchford was always seeking more funds to expand its operation.

Blatchford was critical of the agency’s decision, pointing out that the center had received similar grants for the last two years and he questioned the motives of the agency’s board of directors for deciding to cut the request in 1970.

When asked why the board rejected the request, officials said there was concern about the agency’s budget, adding that the agency wanted the center’s board to take a more active role in the running of the center. What the agency wanted was to have the board start supervising Blatchford who ran the center as a personal fiefdom. But Blatchford said he considered it to be nothing more than discrimination.

The agency complained that Blatchford was ignoring the center’s bylaws and promoting ill will between the Native Americans and Gallup businesses. The center continued to have problems getting outside funding for the next two years and continued to have problems with city officials over how it was being run, especially when Emmett Garcia was elected mayor and made it a priority to get Blatchford removed as director.

He finally succeeded in 1973 and shortly thereafter the BIA closed down the facility, citing safety concerns. The center’s building was completely demolished. There was talk at the time that the BIA would build a bigger and better center but this remained promises as city officials indicated they would be happier without a center.

The Navajo Tribal Fair was held two weeks ago and Dick Hardwick, the editor of the Navajo Times, said he attended the dances one night and wondered why most non-Indians never had the opportunity to enjoy watching these dances. This got him to thinking and he wrote in his column that the tribe should be doing more to publicize these kinds of events to attract as many non-Indians as possible. “The Navajos are not doing enough to publicize themselves,” he wrote.

What the Navajos need, he said, is a year-round attraction that is located near Interstate 40 to attract the cross-country traveler. “The Lupton area would seem to be the logical place to host the attraction,” he said. Being on the reservation, it would be tax free, he said, adding that he was sure that the tribe would be able to get federal and state grants to help pay for its cost.

“The potential for such a park would be limitless,” he said, pointing out that non-Indians had a fascination to learn about Indian culture. “They would gladly go a few miles out of their way to see Indian dances,” he said, adding that if this became a reality and was as successful as he thought it would be, the tribe could consider moving the Navajo Tribal Museum to that location and add to it a cultural center.

This being an election year, Hardwick was probably hoping that one of the candidates for tribal chairman picked up the idea and consider making it a campaign promise. Unfortunately, that apparently didn’t happen.

The election between Raymond Nakai and Peter MacDonald for chairmanship of the tribe was heating up, although very little was being reported in the Navajo Times and the local newspapers in Farmington and Gallup. None of the newspapers bothered to send a reporter to one of the rallies or events to interview the candidates. The battle was waging over the radio with both campaigns spending most of their money for radio time on KGAK in Gallup and KNDN in Farmington.

It became so intense that during the final weeks to the election, one could hardly tune in to these radio stations without hearing Nakai attacking MacDonald and vice versa. One thing that was evident from the very beginning was that the supporters for MacDonald seemed to be more vocal than their counterparts on the Nakai side. This is something that would be prominent in every election MacDonald ran over to the next 16 years.

Hardwick would comment later that the Times would receive five letters of support for MacDonald for every one letter for Nakai, which made some sense because Nakai would spend part of his rallies critiquing the local press for openly supporting MacDonald over him.

Hardwick, in his weekly column, would tell readers the paper was not taking a stand in the election and was making every attempt to treat the two candidates equally. On the question of letters to the editor, despite the fact that more readers wrote in support of MacDonald, the paper decided that the number that would be printed would be the same for each candidate.

About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan wrote about Navajo Nation government and its people since 1971. He joined Navajo Times in 1976, and retired from full-time reporting in 2018 to move to Torrance, Calif., to be near his kids. He continued to write for the Times until his passing in August 2022.


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