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50 Years Ago: MacDonald’s plan to solve problems has $7B price tag

You can’t say the tribe’s chairman was provincial in his thinking about the tribe’s future.

During this week in 1971, Chairman Peter MacDonald put the finishing touches of what would be a 10-year plan that he said would solve all of the reservation’s main economic and social problems.

All it would take was a lot of sweat by tribal officials and $7 billion, which he thought would come from Congress.

Yes, you heard right – $7 billion with a b.

This was even more than BIA officials expected to receive in funding over the next 10 years. For most readers of the Times, it was a figure that boggled their minds.

When word of this plan was announced in the Times, the main reaction was, “Is he serious?”

In fact when I interviewed MacDonald that was the first question I asked. He smiled and said he thought it was doable.

Over the past 50 years, he said, the federal government had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to solve these problems and they were getting worst each year, not better.

“Federal officials should look at this as an investment,” he said. “By giving us the funds we needed to become self-sufficient, the government was looking at savings of billions of dollars in future funding.”

The biggest chunk of this money – $3 billion – would go to building roads throughout the reservation. Another billion or so would go to building houses on the reservation with a goal of 1,000 new homes a year. Five new schools would be built.

I think this was during the time when MacDonald was looking at moving the tribe’s capital to an area near to the center of the reservation, so this also was probably included in the proposal.

The key, he said, was the building of the roads, putting in needed infrastructure and then watching as off-reservation companies crawled over each other to build plants on the reservation.

Ten thousand new jobs would be created and this would create thousands of other jobs to service the newly-formed Navajo middle class.

Of course, none of this happened although MacDonald was able during his first three terms in office to get the federal government to increase federal funding to the reservation by tens of millions of dollars a year.

Grey Hills High School

As MacDonald was working on his 10-year plan, BIA officials were monitoring the building of the reservation’s most expensive school to date. Grey Hills High School, built at a cost of $7.2 million, was set to start classes in September 1972.

Consisting of a three-story dorm housing 600 students, the school could accommodate 600 day students as well.

It would have a greenhouse and a gymnasium that could hold 2,000 people.

And as for the dorms, BIA officials promised that it would be constructed to provide each boarding school student maximum privacy, which students said was exceptional given the bullying that occurred at other BIA boarding schools.

Community leaders as well as education officials had been working on the design of the school for more than three years and it promised to address the needs of all the students, not just those who planned to go on to college.

Classrooms would be provided for the teaching of carpentry, electrician and welding – jobs the community felt would be needed in the future as the economy improved.

There was a lot of debate over whether the new school would include a dorm. Making it a boarding school added more than $2 million to the cost. But community leaders felt there was no way given the size of the Tuba City area to expect parents of children living in remote areas to transport students when the roads became muddy or snow-packed.

There was also space provided for a television center to be used by students to develop videos that would then be “piped” to all areas of the complex.

Given the fact that there was more community involvement in the design of the school than ever before in the BIA’s history, this school was expected to be a showcase that would influence school construction for the next 50 years.

Names in the news

Three young Navajos – Eleanor Arviso, Richard Hardy and Warren Dixon – were honored for completing a course at the Gallup Indian Medical Center as laboratory assistants.

Dr. George Bock, area director the IHS, said this was not an easy course, pointing out that the original class consisted of eight.

Robert Billie, the youngest member of the Navajo Tribal Council, representing Aneth, has been appointed by the governor of Utah as a state level board member for the Division of Indian Affairs.

Window Rock High School’s varsity football squad will have three co-captains this year. Elected co-captains were Rocky MacDonald, Dennis Fredenberg and Bryce Washington.

MacDonald, of course, is the son of the tribe’s chairman, Peter MacDonald.

All three are seniors and the team’s coach, Boone Jackson, said he expected all three would be on the offensive and defensive teams.

Frank LaFave, who was born in Oklahoma but raised in Window Rock, was named director of ONEO’s Concentrated Employment Program.

A graduate of Window Rock High, LaFave is a recent graduate of Arizona State University where he received a business degree in specialty finance.

Eddie Thompson, 33, of Lukachukai, died recently. He was employed as an interpreter at Rock Point Boarding School where he often worked with members of the school board.


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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