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50 Years Ago | Diné voters increase for state, federal elections

As Arizona and New Mexico began preparing for a June primary for state and federal elections, Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald was hoping to be viewed as a future kingmaker.

His efforts during the past two years to convince members of the tribe to register to vote in off-reservation elections seems to be working really well. In fact, Navajos for the first time in their existence were looking to have so many registered voters that in close races they may be able to change the outcome.

The tribe’s election office estimated that 61,000 Navajos on the Navajo Reservation registered to vote in off-reservation elections with about a fourth already registered to vote in the upcoming election.

Annie Wauneka, who represented Klagatoh and Wide Ruins in the Navajo Tribal Council and who was one the post powerful voices, was serving as a vote recruiter in Arizona. She told the Navajo Times that election registrars in Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties put Navajo registration at 7,560, as compared to about 1,500 just two years before.

And this did not take in consideration the thousands of Navajos who lived cities like Albuquerque, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

MacDonald had been preparing for this for months pushing tribal members to register as Democrats, which must have seemed odd to a lot of people given the fact that MacDonald was a hardcore Republican and had been so all of his life.

But MacDonald had made a deal with the AFL-CIO labor union to push for Navajos to vote Democratic in exchange for their support of the Navajos in the century-old dispute with the Hopis.

This was, without doubt, MacDonald’s biggest achievement during his first two years in office. Although he had enough members of the Tribal Council supporting him, he was still in the early stages of a number of changes that would transform the tribal government into what it is today.

What made this even better is that somehow the Associated Press got wind of the Navajo Times story and used this as a basis for a story that went nationwide.

As a result, state officials in both Arizona and New Mexico became aware of the role the Navajo voters may have in the upcoming state elections.

Collecting church hymns

A good portion of tribal members on the reservation were regular church goers with a good number going to Catholic, Baptist and Church of Jesus Christ services on a weekly basis.

Most were elderly and many could not understand English very well so the most popular churches were those who conducted services in Navajo.

Not only were the sermons in Navajo but so were the hymns and a committee has been formed, led by the Rev. Scott Redhouse, to gather these hymns together to create a Navajo song book.

The committee has been going around collecting the hymns and found that many of the most well-known have been translated into Navajo and each religion has its own version.

The committee has been looking at the versions to create an official version that could be used by all of the churches on the reservation. Redhouse said that if more than one version are acceptable, more than one version will be included in the book.

Redhouse said the committee already collected more than 100 hymns that have been translated over the years so the songbook should be a substantial size.

“We know that some of the other religions on the reservation have translated hymns into Navajo so we are asking them to submit them to us so we can include them in the book,” said Redhouse.

Rodeo advertisements

With spring in bloom the Navajo Times was looking at another source of revenue – advertisements for upcoming rodeos.

When Chet MacRorie came on as managing editor of the paper in 1971, one of the first things he did was change the paper’s approach to handling the promotion of rodeos. At the time, the paper has a column listing upcoming rodeos.

Every week during the spring, summer and early fall, some community or organization had a rodeo with the participation of either the All-Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Navajo Nation Rodeo Cowboys Association.

The rodeos were usually profitable and gave communities on the reservation a chance to show off. Rodeo promoters had learned by 1972 that to maximize attendance, they needed to promote the event for several weeks before it was held because rodeo lovers often had more than one rodeo scheduled each weekend.

Before MacRorie, the Times was willing to let the promoters have as many announcements as they wanted. But MacRorie realized that rodeo advertising could be a good source of revenue so he set a policy allowing the promoters only one announcement. Any other promotion, except for the weekly What’s Happening section, had to be paid for.

And since the rodeos couldn’t make use of the paper’s policy to give frequent advertisers lower rates, they had to pay the full price.

What also helped the Times was at this time, none of the border town newspapers covered rez rodeos to any extent so promoters learned quickly the value of being in the Navajo Times.

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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