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50 Years Ago: No TV service for WR, FD residents

Window Rock and Fort Defiance area residents learned that life as they knew it, at least for the next 60 days, was over.

The system for bringing television stations to the reservation was down and tribal officials were told repairs would take a long time.

There was no word on how many families would be affected but those who were affected included Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai and many other top officials of his administration. Nakai said he rarely watched television and when he did it was for the news.

But that wasn’t true for many of the other people living in the Window Rock-Fort Defiance area.

Many tribal employees were probably wondering what they could do at night since there was not much available for adults to do in the area. It was even worse for kids who got used to turning on the television as soon as they got home.

There was a library of sorts but it contained only a couple of thousand books. There was also a local theater group that put on a play every couple of months.

Area residents were encouraged to get involved in the group, either on stage or backstage, and leaders of the group reported later picking up some new recruits.

In late May, television service was restored, to everyone’s relief.

By early April, the election season for tribal chairman was underway with Nakai and his main challenger holding rallies almost on a weekly basis.

Although he wasn’t an official candidate quite yet, Peter MacDonald was clearing up his work as director of the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity to challenge Nakai. At the time, some of his supporters thought it was a major mistake waiting so long to announce with the primary only four months away.

But MacDonald wasn’t worried because he had recruited some people who knew what was going on in the chapters and who were the most important people to wine and dine, so to speak.

This was a time when chapters played an important role in tribal elections and it was in a candidate’s best interest to know who had power.

Marshall Tome, who became one of MacDonald’s top advisers during the campaign and after he took office, described chapter governments as minor fiefdoms led not by the chapter officials but by one family.

Over the years, many chapters were controlled by these families who were big enough that they could basically control who won or lost the chapter elections.
“If you can get these families on your side, it makes it a lot easier to get elected chairman,” he would say.

This was a rule when most members on the Council were ranchers who over the years gained power and respect through family relations.

Two of the most powerful were Annie Dodge Wauneka, who represented Wide Ruins and Klagetoh, and Howard Gorman, who represented Ganado.

Wauneka became only the second woman to be elected to the Council. She would go on to serve 27 years and became one of the most powerful, leading a coalition of delegates who wanted nothing to do with MacDonald.

The granddaughter of Chee Dodge and daughter of Donald Dodge, both of whom had been elected chairman of the tribe, a Wauneka wasn’t supposed to be on the Council. The powers that be in her chapter supported her husband.

But Wauneka didn’t agree with her husband on many issues and thought he would be a terrible Council delegate so she decided to run against him and, to everyone’s surprise, she won.

She would later say she campaigned more in that race than in all six of her later victories combined.

She was probably the only member of the Council who was elected without the support of the biggest family in her chapter. But she later gained that support and sailed through the rest of her elections.

As for Gorman, he would say he never had a problem getting the support of any family in his chapter once he got elected.

His secret, he would say, was in his ability to listen and agree with whatever the person he was talking to said and then to follow his own path.

He didn’t like the Bureau of Indian Affairs very much because of the stock reduction back in the 1939s when the BIA slaughtered tens of thousands sheep belonging to Navajo ranchers.

Gorman said he understood the reasoning behind the reduction – to save the land from overgrazing – but he never could forgive the way they went about destroying the livelihood of hundreds of Navajo ranchers.

He was, by the 1970s, one of the most respected members of the Council.



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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