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50 Years Ago: Leaders use Christmas to build support for future candidacies

The tribe’s newly elected chairman, Peter MacDonald, and his family had been making a tour of the chapters attending Christmas parties, mostly in Arizona while his running mate, Wilson Skeet, and his family had been doing the same thing with New Mexico chapters.

The two leaders had vowed to accept as many of the invitations as possible but since there was only a two-week period, even going to two or three chapters a day was not enough.

This was more than just a victory tour as MacDonald used the events to cement his support in the chapter governments, thinking already about his re-election bid four years in the future.

Ironically, there was another tribal leader thinking the same thing as the tribe’s current chairman, Raymond Nakai, would accept as many invitations from chapters who supported him in the previous election.

Nakai had already made it known to his supporters that he would be running again in 1974 with plans to use the next four years broadening his base, which at that time consisted of about 15,000 hard-core supporters. He felt strongly that a lot of support that MacDonald received in the 1970 election would vanish when they saw what kind of leader he would become.

At that time, voters would opt to come back to him – or at least that was what he was hoping. He also was hoping that the investigation of MacDonald’s use of federal grants while he was executive director of the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity would turn up some corruption, thereby tarnishing MacDonald’s reputation.

Work began this month within the Navajo Tribe on a plan to reapportion the Navajo Tribal Council, something that was done every 10 years.

Although federal law required government entities to be apportioned on the basis of every member representing the same number of members, tribes were exempt from this as long as their reapportionment plans followed traditional values. This was good because everyone realized the current apportionment plan left a lot to be desired.

This could be seen by looking at just two chapters — LeChee and Shiprock. LeChee, with a population of about 400 members, had its own Council delegate. Shiprock, with a population of about 8,000, had two representatives.

So it was evident that to get to a fair representation, a lot of changes would have to be done. As discussions began on what to do, one of the key figures in the discussions was Ron Faich, the tribe’s statistician.

It would be his job to come up a plan that would meet the requirement of giving each tribal member an equal voice in the Council. The problem was that it was not possible because of the way the chapter governments were made up.

The tribe did not want to divide chapters so this would hamper coming up with a plan that would give each tribal member equal representation.

There was also another rule in any new reapportionment – Council members could not go over state lines. By early 1971, the tribe had already rejected reapportionment based on population because of the unique aspects of chapter membership.

The fact that a tribal member lived in Tuba City had no meaning since his chapter membership occurred where he or she was born. So the tribe talked about using voter registrations as a way to come up with a fair representation, but election officials were opposed to this because they weren’t confident that this provided a fair count of the chapter population. So the decision was made to use chapter membership rolls.

There was another factor to consider and this centered on tribal politics. MacDonald wanted to use the reapportionment to gain more support in the tribal Council.

Faich was able to come up with a plan that was acceptable for the most part, although there were a lot of disparity. The plan was geared to a 78-member Council but when it came to the Council for approval, the Council began adding new members, which is how the Council wound up with 88 members. The newly created government districts had one thing in common. They were set up for the most part in areas that supported MacDonald. Take, for example, the new district of Nataani Nez.

From almost the day MacDonald took office, residents of Shiprock showed their disapproval of his administration. The chapter passed numerous resolutions opposing his programs.

There was, however, a small group of MacDonald supporters in the chapter who complained that their voice was ignored by the anti-MacDonald faction. MacDonald wanted to give this group a way to have their voice heard so he pushed for the creation of the Nataani Nez Chapter. The chapter didn’t exist but MacDonald argued that this was a traditional community within the Shiprock Chapter so for the first time, a Council district was created within another Council district.


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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