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50 Years Ago: Nakai sees his end in primary election vote

The Navajo Tribe held its 1970 primary this week and incumbent Chairman Raymond Nakai probably realized Tuesday morning that his time was almost over.

Peter MacDonald overwhelmed Nakai in the election, showing his support covering nearly all sections of the reservation. Nakai showed some support in the smaller chapters in the Western and Eastern agencies but it gave no indication that he had a chance of beating MacDonald in the general election.

The 1970 primary was not held as it is today with each member getting one vote. Instead, there were only 74 votes, one for each chapter with the two top winners battling it out in the general election. The chapters held meetings either on Monday or Tuesday and whoever got the most votes received that chapter’s vote. There were no runners-up.

A total of 52 chapters met on Monday with MacDonald receiving the support of 31 chapters to only 18 for Nakai. When all of the chapter votes were in, MacDonald still held an almost 2-1 lead to over Nakai.

This system had a lot of support in the chapter governments because it made the smallest chapter equal to the reservation’s two largest chapters. In fact, getting the support of one of the smaller chapters was easier because you only needed the support of the largest two or three families in that chapter.

The 1970 Ceremonial was held this week and, yes, there were demonstrations all over the place. Led by the Indians Against Exploitation, the protests began on Wednesday with a sit-in front of the Ceremonial headquarters. The group also planned to hand out leaflets and join the Ceremonial parade without permission.

Attorneys for DNA-People’s Legal Services were on hand throughout the event to provide legal advice to protesters as well as for anyone who was arrested. In that regard, DNA urged protesters not to drink alcohol or take drugs because if anyone was arrested, organizers wanted it to be for the cause and not for anything else.

About 30 people participated in the sit-in and tried unsuccessfully to get Ceremonial officials to listen to their demands. One of the group’s organizers, Michael Benson, was arrested for trespassing but he was released a couple of hours later.

Another group protesting on the Ceremonial grounds tried unsuccessfully to get into the exhibit hall. A small group finally got in by paying the admission price. Not all Indians supported the protestors.

Several craftspeople spoke out against them, calling them hippies and 18-year-old punks. When the event ended, both sides claimed victory. Ceremonial officials said it attracted record crowds while IAE officers said they were out before the public.

You could say the protestors had the final victory because a lot of the things they wanted changed, such as appointments of Native Americans to the Ceremonial board, eventually took place.

Some 200 people have signed a petition asking the city to investigate the “sleep-in” sponsored by the Southwest Indian Foundation. This is a program that provides a safe place for street people to sleep overnight. The petition said people have concerns about health and morals at the site. The petition does not go into detail about the moral issue except to point out that men and women are housed in the building.

Father Dunstan, head of the foundation, said nothing immoral is going on there. He said there is a translator and an off-duty police officer at work every night. He added that while the place is not luxurious, it does provide people a place to sleep other than the ground. He also pointed out that police have never been called there for any reason.

There had been some discussions in the past about its location. It is located about a half block from downtown Gallup on East Highway 66. There have been complaints in the past from downtown Gallup that the site attracts drunks who hang around the downtown area pestering people for change.

Father Dunstan said the foundation is looking for a new home for the program but have not been able to find one that is as good as its present location.

The Rough Rock Demonstration School Board is showing an interest in taking over the day school at Borrego Pass after chapters in the area asked the board to consider it. Dillon Platero, director at Rough Rock, said the board is also considering a request from groups in the Chilchinbito area to take over their school.

Both are currently being run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which recently issued a statement encouraging the takeover of some of its schools by Navajo groups. The Borrego Pass school was originally operated out of a trailer, which was replaced in 1960 by a three-classroom building by the BIA, which also constructed homes for teachers near the school.


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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