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50 Years Ago | Diné, traditionalists join forces, dispute Hopi leadership

Navajo leaders met with Hopi traditionalists this week in an effort to get support from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Navajo solution to the century-old land dispute.

In a press release, Navajos claimed that the Hopi traditionalists, who support the Navajo position, represent a majority of the membership of the Hopi Tribe and they should be recognized as the true government, replacing the Hopi tribal chairman and the Hopi Tribal Council.

The problem is that no one believes the traditionalists hold anywhere near a majority, no matter what they say to the contrary.

BIA Commissioner Louis Bruce has, in the past, listened to their concerns when it comes to who has the authority to speak for the tribe. But the BIA has always recognized the official tribal government as the true leaders.

Back in 1972, Hopi traditionalists issued several press releases trying to convince people that they were the real government. And there was a belief at the time by those who reported on the land dispute that this effort was orchestrated by Navajo leaders to confuse members of Congress into believing that most of the Hopis were opposed to turning over half of the 1.9 million acres of the disputed land to the Hopi Tribe.

The effort didn’t go anywhere but it did have one result – it taught the Hopi traditionalists of the value of getting their side in newspapers.

Up until this time, traditionalists fought their fight with the Hopi government internally but throughout the 70s through the 90s, the leaders put out press releases on a regular basis criticizing the Hopi chairman and Council for ignoring the traditionalists when they decided on matters affecting the land and culture.

NHA bids to build Iyanbito park

Officials for the Navajo Housing Authority are trying to get support for an $8 million park they want to build in Iyanbito, New Mexico.

The effort is being promoted by the agency’s project development office for the Eastern Navajo Agency as a way to bring economic development to Navajos living on the Checkerboard area.

George Musser, head of the office, said studies done by the BIA show that there would be a lot of interest in the proposal because of the jobs it will create and the opportunities it will bring to Navajo craftspeople in that area.

The proposal calls for a tourist center, a vendor’s village and even a powwow arena. There would also be other facilities to attract people on Interstate 40 to take a break and spend some of their money.

NHA would be able to supply some of the money but most will have to come from the federal government. Musser said he thought there was a great chance of getting the funds because the Nixon administration has shown a willingness to spend millions of dollars for economic development on Indian reservations.

Despite his optimism, the proposal may have a hard time getting the full support of the tribal government since Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald has developed a list of projects that he considers essential to the reservation economy and almost every region of the reservation wants money for tourist centers.

Ceremonial losing money to dispute

It is now official. The protest by young Navajo activists is causing the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial a lot of money.

The Ceremonial board has been in court for the past two years defending its right to prevent the group from passing out brochures on the grounds critical of the way the board treats Indian dancers.

Ike Merry, director of Ceremonial, has been complaining that the legal fight is costing the event tens of thousands of dollars annually for legal expenses and he doesn’t see that ending anytime in the near future.

Given the fact that the board struggles annually just to break even, the extra legal costs are creating serious financial problems. To make up the difference, the board is looking at the possibility of eliminating attractions that cost more than they bring in, or raising prices, or doing both.

What really gets their ire up is the fact that the protesters are represented by DNA-People’s Legal Services, the nonprofit which works for low-income people, so they don’t have to shell out any money.

At their monthly meeting, the board agreed to spend $10,000 to hire a professional consultant to study their financial setup and suggest ways to increase revenue.

When informed of the board’s decision, Eddie Brown, one of the protest leaders, pointed out that the group would have been better off using that money to make changes that the group was fighting for. In fact, he said, it would have probably cost them less.

The Ceremonial board received the results of the study a few months later and spent two hours discussing its findings.

Its main finding encouraged the board to push membership by local businesses and individuals. At the time, the association had less than 30 members and a survey of businesses in the area indicated that this could be tripled if the association conducted a membership drive.

Getting more members would also encourage Gallupians to attend the event and get more involved in its operation, the survey said.

While this did not occur until several years later, the study suggested local businesses could show their support by allowing the purchase of Ceremonial flags which could be placed on light poles in the downtown area when the event is being held.

About The 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.


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