50 Years Ago: Liquor loomed large in 1969
One of the big issues covered by the Navajo Times in 1969 was the question of whether liquor sales should be made legal on the reservation.
Over the course of 52 issues published that year, the debate made the front page 11 times, the most of any issue except the fight between DNA and its director, Ted Mitchell, and the tribal government.
The matter went up for discussion twice during the year in the Navajo Tribal Council and both times, after lengthy debate, it was tabled. It was too controversial an issue even for the members of the Council who realized that no matter how they voted, they would lose a large segment of their support in the next election.
Dick Hardwick, the editor of the Times, said the paper received more than 200 letters from its readers on the subject, substantially more than any other subject brought up during the year and he estimated that it was fairly evenly divided between those who supported legalization and those opposed.
In its final discussion of the subject for the year, the paper showcased four of these letters to give readers an idea of some of the issues raised.
Miss Freida Cly, who was either a student or a faculty member at the Shonto Boarding School, said alcohol sales should be legalized even though she shared the concerns of many on the reservation that too many tribal members were wasting their lives because of alcohol abuse.
Sam Robbins of St. Michaels agreed, giving economics as his reason by pointing out how much money earned on the reservation was being spent in border communities for liquor.
S.L. Hatte, who covered Utah for the paper, disagreed.
“The Navajos are a proud people,” he said, adding that allowing liquor sales on the reservation would lead to their downfall.
“They do not know how to handle liquor,” he said, adding that he did not know of anyone on the reservation who had learned how to be a moderate drinker.
In other news, the paper received a press release from officials at Brigham Young University that Hardwick found so interesting that he put it on the front page.
BYU officials said the school’s education department that year had more than 300 Native Americans enrolled to become teachers.
While the Navajo was the tribe with most members going to the school, officials said the number represented members from 64 tribes from 27 states.
The school was in the process of trying to increase that number to 1,000 within the next few years.
While BYU could not claim having the largest Indian enrollment of all of the colleges and universities, it could and did claim having the largest number of Native Americans enrolled in education courses.
Earlier in the year, the school did a survey of its Native students and found that a great majority had plans to get teaching jobs on their reservations when they graduated, which Navajo educators had been saying was needed for years.
In 1965, more than 95 percent of the teachers on the reservation were non-Native, something tribal education leaders said needed to be turned around as soon as possible.
Navajo students, they said, needed role models and being taught by a Navajo who knew tribal customs and spoke the language would be a good example of what Navajos could accomplish in their lives.
A group of Navajo leaders, led by Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai, traveled to Santa Fe to meet with the state’s governor, David Cargo, on a number of issues, including liquor and attempts by the state to levy taxes on reservation residents.
This was not the first time the tribal leaders met with Cargo but this time tribal leaders went with the hope of coming back with something to show for it.
According to reports at the time, Nakai and Cargo did not see eye to eye on many issues although in public they made efforts to show support for one another.
One of the main issues brought up during the meeting was the tribe’s continued objection to the state approving the issuance of liquor licenses for establishments close to the reservation, places like the Navajo Inn outside Tse Bonito and the Sagebrush Package Liquor Store near Yah-Ta-Hey.
Both had been approved in recent years by the state despite objections from the tribe.
Cargo said there was not much he could do about it because existing laws permitted the operation of liquor stores in those locations. He told tribal leaders if they wanted more say in these matters, they would have to get the Legislature to change the laws.