Tribe notes passing of well-known medicine man

The number of times that the Navajo Tribal Council has taken notice of the passing of a Navajo medicine man over the past 50 years can be counted on one’s fingers.

But the passing of Keyaine Nez on June 4, 1971, brought out a major response from tribal leaders and the Council, which recognized the role he had played in the lives of tribal members around Dennehotso as well as in the area of tribal land claims.

Besides being respected for his decades of service to the Navajo people as a medicine man, the Council took note of his role in developing Dennehotso as a farming community.

He was also recognized for his role in the establishment of the Dennehotso Boarding School, for which he not only gave his support but also contributed part of his land for the construction of the school.

Farm jobs not available

Thousands of Navajos every summer travel to Colorado to work on farms as migrant workers, but they are now learning that the jobs they had in years past are no longer available.

“Everyone out here has wetbacks and no one is doing a damn thing about it,” said Louis Pais, who works for the Colorado Migrant Council in Delta, Colorado.

Pais said the Council has been noticing for years the increase in workers emigrating from Mexico and taking over jobs that usually went to Navajos and members of other tribes.

He estimated that there were some 300 illegals working in Delta and another 300 working in the Durango area. All of these jobs had been held by Navajos in the past.

This increase in the number of illegal aliens coming across the Mexican border was becoming a national story in part because of statements from President Nixon that hundreds of thousands of American workers were losing their jobs.

That wasn’t exactly the truth because most of the jobs taken by illegal immigrants were ones that didn’t appeal to American workers. But these agricultural jobs in Colorado were different because hundreds of Navajo families depended on the jobs in order to pay their bills.

Pais said up to a couple of years ago, illegal aliens worked sorely for sugar beet farmers but now they are working in all aspects of farming to the point where “Navajos as well as local residents can’t find jobs.”

Charles Toledo, who runs the migrant assistance office for the Office of Economic Opportunity, said the problem is that by the time Navajos head for Colorado after the school year ends, all of the jobs have taken by illegal aliens who are willing to work for less than the minimum wage which at that time was $1.25 an hour.

Farmers couldn’t do that with Navajos because the migrant council was keeping track of them to be sure they were being treated fairly by their employers. Illegal aliens did not have anyone watching over them.

BIA gets involved in wool market troubles

The Associated Press has reported that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has now gotten involved in trying to help Navajo wool growers deal with the recent downturn in the wool market.

With American fashion now going away from wool, the tribe continues to look for a market to buy three million pounds of wool still left over from the 1970 season. A total of 2.5 million pounds is still being held by traders who are desperately trying to find buyers to prevent financial ruin.

A report issued by the BIA said that wool still is used in other countries and an effort is underway by federal officials to see if companies in England, Norway and Asia would be interested in buying some of the wool.

Price doesn’t seem to be a factor because the BIA is reportedly looking at any price to get rid of the wool which last year sold for 35 cents a pound.

In other news, Navajo tribal officials said they are accepting requests from Navajo farmers who want a piece of the $1 million appropriated by the Navajo Tribal Council last month to help farmers cope with the collapse of the wool market.

The reason the tribe decided not to use any of the money to buy wool from the previous season was because farmers had already been paid by traders for that wool. The traders seem to be on their own to find a buyer for that wool.

Instead, the tribe’s concern seems to be the wool from the current season, which was being held in warehouses and barns since there is no market for it on the reservation and elsewhere.

The Navajo Tribe plans to buy this wool at prices far below the 1970 rate and store it in warehouses until a buyer or buyers are found.

At the same time, tribal officials are strongly encouraging Navajo buyers to find a new way to raise revenue in the future. Just what that is will be up to the farmers.

Indian jewelry is currently seeing a boom as celebrities are seen wearing turquoise necklaces and bracelets as accessories. Navajo rugs are also seeing an uptick but demand for rugs is nowhere near that for Navajo jewelry.

Some farmers are reportedly thinking into increasing their cattle herds, feeling the beef market will be increasing in the future.

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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