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50 Years Ago: Inauguration problems include weather, parking

While tribal members won’t know for another month who will be sworn in on Jan. 2 as the tribe’s new chairman, a special committee has been formed to handle the inauguration event and they know they will have to address several problems – including cold weather.

The biggest problem is where to hold the inauguration, which is expected to draw as many as 10,000 spectators from all over the reservation as well as dignitaries from as far away as Washington, D.C. Because of temperatures that dipped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit at some events in the past, the committee wanted to find a location that would allow them to hold the event indoors if the weather turned bad.

The problem was that there was no indoor location on the reservation that could handle anywhere near that number. The committee was even willing to consider a location in a border community but there were none there either. So the only choice was the rodeo and fairgrounds in Window Rock so the committee decided to continue using that site and hope the weather cooperated.

But that brought up another problem – parking. Parking at the fairgrounds had been a problem for years. With most of the area used for parking was still unpaved, rain and snow created massive problems for drivers. Added to that was the fact that there were no guidelines for parking, which resulted in drivers parking in no order, resulting in many drivers finding their vehicles blocked in by late arrivals. With no funds to pay for improvements or paid personnel to control where people parked, the committee decided to seek volunteers to help direct to the parking.

New figures were released this week by the BIA showing the unemployment rate on the reservation to be more than 60%, giving Peter MacDonald, who is running for tribal chairman, a perfect opportunity to go after Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai for not doing enough to bring more jobs to the reservation.

“Unemployment is the number one problem on the reservation,” MacDonald said, adding that it is also responsible for the reservation’s number one health problem – alcohol abuse. But these figures may be a little misleading. To arrive at the unemployed rate, the BIA estimates the number of tribal members who are actively looking for a job.

This includes Navajos who have an income from such things as raising sheep, making jewelry or weaving rugs but would like to have job that provides a steady income. The impression that most tribal members seem to have is that a 60% unemployment rate means that 60% of Navajo adults have no income coming in at all, explained Dick Hardwick, managing editor of the Navajo Times.

Most adult tribal members have some source of income coming in. He also said that tribal members who are living on the streets because of alcohol abuse are not considered to be unemployed because they are not actively looking for a job and would not accept a job if it was offered to them.

Speaking of jobs, Hardwick said he was told that the fastest growing occupation on the reservation in the 1950s was bootlegging. “Anyone can become a bootlegger,” he said. “It doesn’t require an education or expertise. It also doesn’t require a lot of startup costs. You can even operate out of your home. There is not even need to hire employees.”

There is little downside, he added. Tribal police don’t seem to feel arresting bootleggers to be a high priority and if you are arrested, the penalty is usually a small fine and a few hours in jail. And since it’s a cash-only business, there is no need to worry about paying any taxes.

Given all of that, Hardwick said he was told it was a very difficult business to get into because the reservation was saturated with bootleggers. Hardwick said tribal reports in 1968 estimated that more than 200 bootleggers were operating on or near the reservation with each chapter having at least one bootlegger.

Officials in the chairman’s office have complained to Hardwick that the paper is violating his pledge to remain neutral in the election. What they are upset about is the fact that the paper is printing a lot more letters to the editor that are critical of Nakai than of his challenger.

This has led to Hardwick again publishing a statement in the Navajo Times saying that the paper will not show favoritism over either of the candidates. He omitted in the statement that the paper had printed more letters critical of Nakai then it did of MacDonald, but there was a simple reason for this: the paper received few letters critical of MacDonald.

This was because MacDonald did not have the same number of critics as Nakai or he had not been in politics to generate the amount of negative feelings that Naka seems to have gathered. In any case, the Times was sticking to its rule to treat both candidates equally in its letters column while providing those critical of Nakai an opportunity to make their feelings known.

To accomplish this, Hardwick decided that for every letter critical of Nakai, the paper would print one in support for him. The paper was also printing one letter of support for a Nakai for every letter of support it printed for MacDonald. As a result, Nakai was getting far more letters of support printed in the paper than MacDonald did, something that the MacDonald campaign was probably not happy about.

“Having both candidates unhappy with us is a lot better than having just one of the candidates unhappy,” Hardwick said.


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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