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50 Years Ago: Paul Jones, major political force, passes

Paul Jones has been a major political force on the Navajo Reservation from the late 1940’s to the mid-60s so his death on Nov. 8, 1971, was felt throughout the tribe. He was 71 years old at the time of his passing.

He’s been referred to as the first manager and leader of his tribe to make it possible for large numbers of Navajos who graduated from high school to go on to college, leading to the eventual era when Navajos replaced non-Navajos as heads of tribal departments.

It was during his eight years as tribal chairman (1953-1961) that mineral development on the reservation took off and the tribe first began making plans to set up an agricultural farm south of Farmington.

He was a big believer in the chapter government system and, because of increased royalties from oil, gas and coal, he was able to fund the construction of more than 25 chapterhouses.

During his years in office, Navajo Forest Products Industry and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority were created.

In respect for the former leader, Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald called for flags to be flown at half-mast for a week. Tribal employees were given Wednesday off to go to his memorial service.

MacDonald called Jones one of the tribe’s greatest leaders.

“He was a man of compassion, understanding and an inner strength called courage,” MacDonald said. “He left us the inspiring examples we can strive for.”

Jones lost the 1962 election to Raymond Nakai but his influence was felt for the next four years because most of the members of the Navajo Tribal Council were strong supporters and refused to cooperate with the new chairman.

Today, many young Navajos, especially those who come from the western side and of the reservation, will probably recognize his name from the landmark Healing v. Jones decision, which paved the way for the Navajos and Hopis to fight for possession of 1.9 million acres for more than 40 years.

Getting young Diné involved

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks by tribal officials who are trying to find a way to get young Navajos more involved in the tribal government.

MacDonald said he sees the problem becoming more pronounced as the years go by.

“Few Navajos n their 20’s and 30’s seem to care at all about what’s is going on in their tribal government and we need to figure how a way to turn this around,” he said.

The problem is even worse in local governments where chapter meetings are attended almost solely of tribal members who are over the age of 30.

Perry Allen, chief prosecutor for the tribe, recently brought this up in one of his reports to the tribal Council. As prosecutor, he has been accepting a lot of invitations from chapters to speak on criminal issues.

“I very seldom see young people at these meetings,” he said. And those who do attend usually don’t stay for very long.”

This has become important to him, he said, because he uses these meetings to encourage young Navajos to step up and start making their voice heard on issues plaguing tribal leaders.

He said he realizes that young members of the tribe have a lot of ways to use their free time but chapter governments need to start making an effort to give more opportunities for young members to participate.

He said he realizes why young people don’t attend chapter meetings.

“They go on for five or more hours,” he said. “They are held mostly in Navajo which creates problems for those who are not fluent in their language.”

But the greatest problem of all, he said, is the attitude of older Navajos when someone of this generation does get up the courage to give input.

“I have seen a lot of disrespect from older members of the chapter who ignore the input from the younger generation and is some cases, turn on the speaker telling him he doesn’t have the experience to know what needs to be done,” Perry said.

Register to get scholarship

Officials for the tribal scholarship program are considering a proposal to require any Navajo who gets a tribal scholarship to register to vote in tribal elections.

Whether they vote or not will be up to them but they will be encouraged to participate in tribal elections.

One advantage of this is that if there are a large number of young Navajos on the voting register, candidates for tribal office may start seeking their vote. As it is now, campaigns are focused almost entirely on the older voters because candidates known they will go and vote in Election Day.

No violence – yet

Although there have been protests and complaints, there has been little violence that have occurred between the Navajo and the Hopis in the lands surrounding the Hopi Reservation. But that may now be over.

The AP has a story that the Hopis have hired a Winslow cowboy by the name and of Elmer Randolph to patrol the boundaries of the Hopi Reservation to keep Navajo stock from wandering onto Hopi lands.

He has been on the job for a couple of months now and said he patrols in a truck and has had to deal with several cases of Navajo livestock.

He said one time when he turned the sheep around, a man came up to him waving a gun but no one was injured.

“A lot of Navajo ranchers are now carrying guns in their pickups and someone could get hurt,” he said.


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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