50 years ago: Ramah schools factions battle over voting, policies

A major battle of words has erupted between factions within the Ramah School District over, among other things, non-Navajo parents feeling they have been unjustly barred from any say in school policy. The Navajo Times received a statement from a group calling itself the Ramah Advisory Committee, which had been formed in August.

The committee is composed of parents of Anglo, Hispanic and Zuni students at the school.

The group was protesting the fact that only Navajos were eligible to be elected to the Ramah High School board. Non-Navajo parents were not allowed to vote in the election even though non-Navajos make up about a third of the student body.

“If Ramah High School is truly meant to be a community school, then everyone in the community should have a right to vote and participate in the school government,” the statement said.

The group was also upset that Zuni High, which is a part of the county school system, gets $2,200 for each Zuni student while Ramah High only gets $600, which has a serious affect on the ability of the high school to provide a quality education.

The group has no concern about courses being offered at the high school on Navajo culture but they also feel the school has an obligation to offer courses dealing with the culture of non-Navajo students. This includes not only courses on Zuni culture but also dealing with other ethic groups, including Germans, Swedes and Poles.

The group also complained about the inexperience of many of the teachers at the school. “Many do not have teacher certificates,” the group stated. Two days later, the school board released its own statement, responding to the first letter. Using Navajo philosophy, the actions by the non-Navajo group could be looked at as trying to bring harmony to all factions attending the school. But it also could be viewed as being “oppressive and tyrannical.”

The school board pointed out that most of the funding for the school came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which created the school to meet needs of the Ramah Navajo community. After the Ramah community was created after 1968, Ramah Navajos had to react to a number of problems affecting their families.

“When non-Indian farmers killed our sheep, we turned our backs. When the boarding schools punished our students for talking Navajo or taking part in cultural events, we turned our backs,” the statement said, adding that Navajo families are through turning their backs.

The letter from the advisory committee was looked upon as a “vicious” attack by non-Indian groups in the community who still have not grasped the fact that Navajos can run their own school system.

The school board statement ended with a desire to work with everyone in the community, which is the Navajo way. The school board, however, reaffirmed its mandate to have a school run by Navajos for Navajos.

The group of Navajo activists who have been trying for the past two years to make changes in the way the Gallup Ceremonial is run have another victory under their belts. For the first time in the 45-year history of the Ceremonial, its board has expressed a willingness to allow Native Americans to have a voice in how the event is run.

This week the board sent out a letter to all members of the association announcing that there were to openings on the board for the coming year. The members were told to select two names from a list of 11 to determine who would be elected to the board.

Three of the names on the list were Native American – Kay Bennett, a Navajo crafrtswoman who one day would run for tribal president, Preston Monongye, a world famous artist, and Ray Christensen, who had been a volunteer to the event for more than a decade.

The board said that it was likely that at least one of the Native Americans would be elected to the board.

It seems that drug usage comse in cycles on the Navajo Reservation.

While methamphetamine is, by far, the drug of choice on the reservation in 2020 and cocaine dominated the scene in the 1990s, in 1970 the big problem on the reservation, according to police officials, was heroin.

Just how bad the problem was is probably debatable since the Navajo Police did not have a drug unit and it was up to patrolmen to do most of the investigations and their sole role seems to have been to make arrests.

There was no indication that anyone in the police department undertook a long-term investigation on anyone who may be a drug dealer. Arrests on drug charges were made by the BIA, which had its own investigative unit, which made sense since drug possession and distribution were considered felonies and tribal courts only handled misdemeanors.

Neither the Navajo Police nor the BIA release arrest reports so the articles in the Navajo Times were based on statements from tribal leaders, usually during the campaigns of chairman candidates. Both Raymond Nakai and Peter MacDonald pledged during their campaigns to be tough on crime. There didn’t seem to be a major concern for voters who placed economic development and the creation of jobs as their number one concern.


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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