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50 Years Ago: Legal expenses in a simpler era

In 1969 things were so much simpler than they are today.

Today, the Navajo Nation employs more than 40 attorneys and spends millions of dollars on legal expenses. Back in 1969, the total cost of the tribe’s legal affairs was $100,000, according to a report to the Navajo Tribal Council.

That was the amount the tribe paid to Harold Mott, the tribe’s general counsel. Out of that, he paid his salary and the salary of two other attorneys, as well as any expenses, which included clerical help.

Mott worked out of Washington, D.C., and only came to the reservation when needed. He supervised the other two attorneys who had offices in Window Rock. He also had other clients but was expected to give priority to his work for the tribe.

The other attorneys made $9,000 a year, which Mott said in his report was about average for an attorney still learning how to do his job. Neither attorney was Navajo.

Mott was asked bout the possibility of finding a Navajo attorney but he replied that he was not aware of any Navajo who had passed the bar. He said he did hear of a couple of Navajos who were going through law school and planned to ask at least one of them to consider working as a law clerk for his office the following summer.

Speaking of Navajos in high positions, Graham Holmes, the area director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had made a pledge recently to Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai that he would be appointing Navajos to as many of the high positions within his domain as possible in the coming years.

He said the BIA had a number of Navajo employees who had been in the job for a decade or more and knew how to run BIA programs as well as anyone else and he saw no reason when the opportunity arose why they should not be moved up to head the programs.

Most of the program heads at this time were non-Navajo and the government’s position was not to remove them unless they requested to be transferred elsewhere or decided to retire. Despite this, however, the turnover in BIA employment was high and Holmes expected to have an opportunity in the next year or so to make a few appointments.

In other news, a new service opened up on the reservation, believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in Indian Country.

The first day care on any reservation opened up its doors 50 years ago this week. Operated by Indian Aid Inc., the business was located in Shiprock. According to company officials, it would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle day-care needs of anyone who worked on any shift.

The business could handle up to 500 kids at any one time and was being billed as something more than just a baby-sitting service. The kids were fed two meals per shift as well as a snack. It also had beds for naps and a nursery for babies.

The center was being operated out of the old BIA boarding school, which had undergone a severe makeover with new plumbing and structural repairs.

While attending the day care, children would have access to activities, including making crafts. Each child would also be given a shower daily to show the need for proper hygiene on a daily basis.

The article did not mention any costs but indicated it was relatively cheap because the center was nonprofit.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Times was looking into the question of poverty on the Navajo Reservation.

No one was denying, said Dick Hardwick, the paper’s editor, that poverty existed, but was it as bad as some people said it was?

He brought this up in talks with officials of the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity who said there were several organizations and religious groups who were trying to raise money to relieve hunger on the reservation.

The ONEO officials questioned whether anyone on the reservation went to bed hungry given the social programs operated by ONEO to help feed children and low-income families.

But Hardwick pointed out that several schools on the reservation were providing students with breakfast before classes started because they weren’t getting it at home. Many students were also saying they did not get a good supper at home.

The year before, the paper had printed an interview with a tribal social worker who said she knew of families who sold their food stamps to trading posts at discounted price so they could have money to buy liquor.

The problem was so bad, she said, that her office put trading post operators on notice that if they heard they were doing it, they would be reported to the federal government. This seems to have solved that problem but there was no way of knowing if these families found someone else who would do it.

Tribal police said they heard reports that bootleggers on the reservation were willing to take food stamps but they had no real evidence that this was happening.


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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