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50 Years Ago: Head-on collision underlines need to expand ’264

LOS ANGELES

Many people may have forgotten the number of tragedies that occurred due to head-on collisions between Gallup and Window Rock until the roads were upgraded to four lanes in the 1980s.

Driving the two-lane highway at night, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings, was a risky proposition and it was common for reservation residents to book a room at a Gallup motel so they would not have to travel on State Highway 264 between midnight and 3 a.m.

The Navajo Times usually didn’t cover these type of stories but a decision was made to point out the danger when eight persons, most of whom were in their late teens, died in a two-car head-on collision about 2 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, 1970.

The accident occurred about 2.6 miles east of the Arizona line. In the report, handled by New Mexico State Police officers, liquor was involved with both drivers. Seven of the eight died at the scene while one person died later after being transported to Gallup Indian Medical Center. The death toll for ’264 jumped to 14 for the year.

The transportation of the injured person to Gallup some 20 miles away instead of the Fort Defiance IHS hospital only nine miles away resulted in several letters to the Navajo Times. Reporters asked state police why this happened and received a response from the director of the state police who said his office had never received an official letter from the hospital that they were accepting patients. He also said it would not have made a difference in this case since the injured party died sometime after making it to the hospital.

The Navajo Times would later editorialize on the matter by calling out tribal and state officials for not adding more lanes and making the highway safer. How many more people would have to die before government officials took the matter seriously? the editorial asked.

In other news, there was a groundbreaking for a major industrial project being undertaken by the Nakai administration. The project called for the construction of two-, three- and four-bedroom mobile trailers at the industrial park in Fort Defiance. Officials for Hanover Modular Homes International, which was partnering with the tribe on the venture, said their first priority would be to bring in four model homes which would be placed at the site to show what they would look like and to encourage sales.

At the same time, a production plant would be built. This was expected to bring employment to 125 Navajos. Production was expected to be up and running in late 1971. Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai, who did not attend the groundbreaking, issued a statement saying this may pave the way to solving the housing problem on the reservation. A three-bedroom trailer, complete with living room and kitchen, retailed for $6,900.

There apparently were problems with the project since a check of Times stories in 1971 and 1972 showed no further mention of the project. Did it run into financial problems or was it bureaucratic red tape? There was no mention in the Times article of the tribe putting up any money so negotiations may have still been underway and the groundbreaking may have been a ploy by Nakai to get votes.

If so, this wouldn’t be the last time that the tribe would announce a major development during an election year only to see it fade away after the elections.

The Navajo Tribal Council is meeting this week to approve a new budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 and BIA officials are once again cautioning Council members to tread carefully.

The BIA still had the authority to disapprove the budget and send it back to the Council, something they would do on occasion until they gave up this authority some eight years later. BIA guidelines called for the tribe to approve a budget based in their expected revenue.

The Council didn’t do this in 1970. In that year, the members approved a budget of $15.2 million, which actually ended up above $17.5 million with add-ons that were approved throughout the year.

According to BIA figures, the tribe actually received income of about $14 million in fiscal year 1970 which created an actual deficit of more than $3.5 million, which the tribe had to take out of savings.

The proposed budget for the next fiscal year is posted at $14.3 million but BIA officials say their reading of tribal expenses shows a gross figure of more than $15 million so the tribe will go into the red again next year even without add-ons. Council delegates pointed out that this year was an election year, which required expenditures to keep voters happy.

They promised to keep add-ons to the minimum for the next two years.

And finally, the Navajo Times praised staff and students at the Rough Rock Demonstration School for the construction of an environmental laboratory.

A lot of attention was given over the past few years over the school’s emphasis in teaching cultural matters and its embrace of the Navajo language, but the school also pushed its science courses even though the space for a science laboratory was very small.

The new laboratory building was constructed by students and volunteers from a youth group from Webster Grove, Missouri, over a two-year period. The Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity came up with $4,000 and the BIA another $5,000 for supplies. The laboratory consists of a lecture area and six work cubicles.


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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