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50 Years Ago: Focus on drought, land condition, passerby says

Adolophe Begay, a Navajo living at the time in Durango, Colo., stopped by the offices of the Navajo Times and talked to the paper’s managing editor, Chet MacRorie, for more than an hour about conditions on the Navajo Reservation.

The talk had a big impression on MacRorie as he wrote a column about the visit and later said the conversation convinced him that the Times didn’t spend anywhere near the time it should covering the condition of land on the reservation and the problems drought conditions were placing on Navajo ranchers and farmers.

He was right. In the entire history of the tribal newspaper, only a handful of stories talked about the drought conditions the reservation was facing and these stories were usually only a few inches in length and never tried to put the problem in perspective.

The truth of the matter was even worse as the Times seldom published articles that helped farmers and ranchers in their day-to-day operations.

But the Times wasn’t alone. None of the local off-reservation papers bothered to report on these subjects as well. The only source ranchers and farmers had to provide them the information they needed were local grazing officials.

Begay stressed to MacRorie that the reservation was “wasting away” and nobody was doing anything about it. The worst drought on the reservation began in July and the rangeland was already devastated by severe overgrazing, he said.

The area between Tuba City and Kayenta was affected the worse, he said.

“With little vegetation, the heavy summer rains have created hundreds of little gullies and small canyons,” he said.

Ranchers needed to take a proactive response to the problem instead of complaining to tribal officials. One thing he suggested was for ranchers to dig large holes to the clay level throughout their grazing areas. These holes would capture as much as 100 gallons during a heavy rain.

He said it was also the responsibility of Navajos living in the communities to do everything they could do to conserve water until the drought ends.

He said the Shonto Boarding School was holding a contest among the student body to get suggestions on how to conserve water.

MacRorie pledged to his readers that the Times would do their part. Over the next several months, the paper would print updates from the tribe’s grazing office on drought problems and he began looking for a local veterinarian to do a biweekly column given ranchers advice on how to deal with medical problems that occurred in their livestock herds.

Police await raises

Members of the tribe’s police force are still wondering when tribal officials will address their concerns and give them raises or start and effort for overtime.

In late August, most of the police force staged a 10-hour work stoppage and threatened to do the same the following month during the tribal fair if the tribe didn’t address their concerns.

They only backed down when a Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald established a committee to look into the concerns.

In the past six weeks, the committee has met at least twice with the tribe’s police chief, Lafia Bennett, and have come to the conclusion that the police officers were justified in their attempts to get better pay and working conditions.

In fact, the committee members said they were surprised that the police members waited so long to make their concerns known.

One member said that for a long time, the needs of police officers were ignored, which led to some working 70 to 80 hours a week. They only got paid for a 40-hour workweek at a salary more than 25% lower than other police officers in the area were making.

That was the good news. The bad news was that letters to the editor were overwhelmingly opposed to any pay increases until officers began doing a better job in policing the reservation.

The main complaint was the length of time it took for police to show up after a crime was reported.

Letter writers told of stories of having someone break into their homes to steal valuables and having to wait as much as two days before police came by to write a report.

MacDonald said this week that he was still committed to having the tribal Council take some kind of action to address the concerns and he was just waiting for the committee to issue their findings.

New sportswriter needed

Speaking of making the Times more receptive to the needs and interest of readers, MacRorie was looking at making a major change that would have a major effect on the paper’s circulation.

With the budget that was approved by the tribal Council in September, the paper received an increase allowing for the hiring of another reporter.

The paper only had one full-time writer, Roland Billy, but MacRorie wanted to hire two more.

He only received enough funds to hire one more reporter so MacRorie decided to use it to hire someone to cover sports.

At this time, no one was covering high school sports and rodeos. Local newspapers would print press releases that came from reservation schools and the reservation’s two Indian rodeo associations. But these just listed names and gave no insight to what happened on the basketball courts and rodeo arenas.

MacRorie believed that having one writer covering sports would be able to generate five to six lengthy articles a week. Not only would high school students and their parents buy the paper t see if their son was mentioned but anyone interested in high school sports and rodeo would by the paper on a regular basis to keep up with reservation sports.

So this week, with the new budget in place, MacRorie began his search for a sports writer.


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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