50 Years Ago: MacDonald doesn’t support Ceremonial’s federal grants effort

Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald, who just a month previous had pledged to work with Gallup to benefit local Native Americans, announced 50 years ago this week that the Navajo Tribe will not be supporting the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in its efforts to secure federal grants to help the organization find a new site.

MacDonald said he felt that he could not support the Ceremonial because there were no Indians involved in the running of the organization. If the federal government wanted to issue grants to highlight Indian culture, he said, it should go to an organization run by Native Americans.

Ike Merry, the director of the Ceremonial, pointed out that two of the organization’s board members were Native American. He told the board that without support of Indian leaders, it was doubtful that the organization would get any federal grants.

The next week, Zuni Pueblo played host to representatives from 20 other tribes who were meeting to talk about preserving their cultures. During the meeting, the representatives passed a resolution supporting the Ceremonial’s attempt to qualify for federal grants.

For some reason, only the smaller tribes around the United States were invited to attend the conference. On the same day that the Ceremonial vote was taken at that conference, MacDonald issued a statement clarifying his earlier Ceremonial remarks.

He said that while he felt the Ceremonial needed to be guided by Native Americans, he had no grudge at all against the event himself. He attended it every year and had a good time and planned to do so again in August.

The upcoming event would mark the Ceremonial’s 50th anniversary and the directors were planning a lot of special events including giving out thousands of silver and bronze medals to commemorate the anniversary.

A lot was going on behind the scenes in the BIA this week after it was announced that the Navajo Area director, Graham Holmes, was being transferred to California to be area director for several tribes there.

Holmes had been area director for most of the Nakai administration and had been given high marks by his superiors for being able to work with Raymond Nakai who, in private, told his aides he didn’t trust him because he felt he was supporting members of the Navajo Tribal Council who opposed him.

That wasn’t true and Holmes said he made every effort to get along with Nakai and publicly it appeared the two worked well together so Holmes was not being transferred for not doing his job well. As he explained it, the BIA often transferred area directors from one place to another, usually when there was a change in leadership.

On April 17, a farewell party was held on his behalf at the Wingate High School and, according to reports in local media, he received “a mountain of Navajo blankets” from some of the 300 or so persons in attendance.

MacDonald gave him a chief’s blanket because “he was the Number One boss of the Navajos.”

Howard Gorman, who represented Ganado on the Council and was on the board for the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise, gave him a Navajo rug from the board.

He praised him for his successful efforts to get funding from the BIA for dormitories for Navajo Community College.

Others took up this theme pointing out that he “stuck his neck out” for the tribe at numerous times.

Even after being in office for only a few weeks, MacDonald had the power to stop the transfer but instead he started making an effort to get Ned Hatathli named as his replacement.

The BIA had a policy of consulting with tribal leaders in these kinds of appointments but privately the decision was to put someone in as area director who would put pressure on the tribe to be more financially prudent since MacDonald already had a reputation from his days as head of the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity as being a little free with federal monies.

MacDonald asked tribal attorneys to research whether the state of Colorado had the right to order officials at Fort Lewis College to start charging Navajo students tuition.

The college had never charged Navajos tuition before and Navajos said they had a right to attend the college tuition-free because of provisions in the Treaty of 1868 wherein the federal government promised to provide Navajos with a free education.

Fort Lewis had offered Native Americans free tuition since it was established in 1910 since it had been built on the site of a Native American boarding school. The federal government had transferred the land (originally located near the present town of Hesperus) to the state of Colorado on the condition the state continue to educate Natives for free.

Since the college had to rely on the state to help provide funding to operate the school, state legislators were looking at passing a bill doing away with the Native benefit in order to increase revenue for the school.

Navajos made up a sizable percentage of the student body and their leaders had already been making plans to hold demonstrations if the state passed the bill. College officials said they were aware of these plans and were hoping that the demonstrations, if held, were peaceful.

There was some fear because this was an era when student demonstrations held outdoors often turned violent with students taking over administration offices and destroying college property.
MacDonald said college officials had no reason to fear violence because Navajo students had shown a great respect for peaceful demonstrations and had never resorted to militant action to get their point across.

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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