50 Years Ago: Farewell to Marshall Tome and efforts to legalize liquor on the reservation
It’s becoming very difficult for Navajo tribal members to keep track of who is in and who is out as far as high-ranking tribal officials are concerned.
In early March 1965, Marshall Tome was out as editor of the Navajo Times but he was allowed to stay on until the end of the month so he could help find someone who would replace him. Under a deal with the tribe, he would be gone by the end of March.
So in the March 25, 1965 issue, he bid a fond farewell to those who supported him while he was the editor.
“My hope is that our next editor (no one had been chosen as yet) should not experience the difficulties of trying to give you a weekly newspaper that the Navajos can be proud of wherever they may be in the world,” he wrote.
In the editorial, for the first time, readers were given an insight into some internal workings at the newspaper with Tome said that the tribe provided the paper with a subsidy of $30,000 a year. The rest of the paper’s costs – which totaled about $75,000 – came from circulation and advertising revenues.
Tome also reported that both circulation and advertising revenue were increasing faster than the cost to put out the paper so he expected that the paper would soon be self-sufficient and would not have to rely on any subsidies from the tribal government.
One reason why the paper cost so little to put out was due to the fact that it had no actual writers except for Tome. While the paper had plenty of copy, more than 95 percent of it consisted of rewritten press release and articles that were reprinted from local newspapers.
Tome’s leaving led to a lot of discussion within the tribal government about what kind of paper the Navajo Times should be. This kind of question would continue to be brought throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1980s as editors for the tribal paper tried to cover internal politics and controversies and still keep their job.
In 1965, there were a number of tribal Council delegates, including people like Annie Wauneka and Howard Gorman, who wanted the paper to be a sort of glorified newsletter, just giving readers the basic facts of what was going on within the government, leaving the controversial elements to the border town papers to cover.
Their point was that the paper was owned by the tribal government, was being subsidized by the tribal government and was being used by the tribal government to promote the tribe to outsiders.
Articles that made fun of members of the Old Guard or indicated that there was a division within the government on various issues would only make it harder for tribal officials to provide needed services to the Navajo people.
There were others – unfortunately a small minority – who wanted a paper that was free to report on problems within the tribal government and to focus on everything from corruption to the mismanagement that was costing the Navajo people millions of dollars in wasteful spending.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for the next shoe to fall – the naming of the new editor. This would determine if the paper would continue to cover all aspects of the tribal government fairly and honestly or whether it would be led by someone who would push the paper in the direction of a newsletter.
There’s talk on the reservation about efforts being made by outside groups to try and convince the tribal government to hold a referendum among Navajo voters to decide whether to approve the sale of liquor on the reservation.
This isn’t the first time this idea has come up. Groups in various border communities surrounding the Navajo Reservation – most particularly Gallup and Winslow – have brought it up on a regular basis as a way to reduce the number of street people in these communities.
The theory is liquor is approved for sale on the reservation, problem drinkers would stay in their own communities and therefore the number of Natives who live on the streets of border communities would decline.
But Gallup Police Chief Manual Gonzales had said he didn’t believe this, pointing out that almost every community on the reservation has one or more bootleggers, providing everyone on the reservation with a ready source of liquor if they wanted it.
The border communities have other attractions, he said, including a chance to meet up with friends or to stay away from family members that make staying in these communities more attractive than just drinking at home.
There was also a belief that there existed on the reservation a large number of older, conservative Navajos – both men and women – who would vote against liquor sales because of the toll it has taken over the years on their friends and family members.
This issue would come up repeatedly during the 1960s as even into the 1970s asÊ tribal leaders, such as Raymond Nakai and Peter MacDonald, would try and find solutions to the problems of alcohol abuse that existed within the Navajo people.
One of the main reasons this would come up was the carnage on reservation roads as accidents caused by drunken drivers would kill entire families as they drove on State Highway 264 and U.S. Highway 666, both of which were two lane highways during those days and the main highway for people to get to and from border communities.
Both Nakai and MacDonald would be asked repeatedly if they would support a referendum on the issue and both would basically give the same answer – no referendum on this issue had a chance of passing and any tribal leader who came out in favor of reservation liquor sale would be committing political suicide.
Still, the Navajo Times would bring up the issue every couple of years, not so much to get a vote on the matter, but because any story about liquor sales on the reservation would mean a big bump in the number of papers that were sold as well as increase the number of letters to the editor.
(Editor’s note: This weekly piece by Bill Donovan highlights articles and news items from 50 years ago that made headlines in the Navajo Times.)