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White parents eye Diné board members with suspicion

An anonymous letter arrived from a Navajo living in Southern California and Dick Hardwick, the Time’s editor decided to publish it although the paper had a policy of not printing unsigned letters.

The letter writer didn’t explain why he brought the subject up, but talking about the hair styles for Navajo men in the early 1800s, he said Navajos wore their hair in two different ways, depending if they were at peace or at war.

“When they were at home or during times of peace, they wore their hair folded back on the top of the head and divided it in the middle,” he wrote. “But when they went out to fight the enemy, they had their hair like a ponytail.”

The Times reported a lot of unrest had sprung up within the Anglo population in McKinley County because of the results of the county school board election on Tuesday when voters elected two Navajos to the board, putting Navajos in control of the board.

The election of John Martin and Abe Plummer to the five-member board to join Earnest Becenti gave Navajos control of three of the five seats. Anglo parents in the city expressed concern that the board would show favoritism to the schools in the county, which were mostly Navajo, over the schools in the city.

One reason for this belief was that when the school board was controlled by three Anglos, the majority of revenue seemed to be going to the city schools.

Now that the tide had turned, so to speak, Anglo parents apparently felt that once the Navajos had the opportunity, they would do the same thing the whites had been doing for the past several years and show favoritism to their own area.

But Hardwick, in an editorial published after the election, said their concerns were unjustified, saying those who think this way only had to attend a meeting of the Navajo Tribal Council. If they did this, they would soon realize that Navajos in leadership positions have a hard time agreeing with each other.

But when the Times interviewed the Anglo board members as well as the school’s superintendent, who was also Anglo, they reported that the three had no concerns that the board would now have three Navajos. Superintendent A. C. Woodburn pointed out that 60 per cent of the students enrolled in the district were Native American and the school board now reflected that figure.

Despite the fact that decisions made during the next two years didn’t appear to favor either side, the opinion of a lot of the Anglo families did not seem to change and there was talk again about the possibility of splitting the district.

It took Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald only a month to derail the investigation going on about spending at the Office of Navajo Economic Development during the time he was executive director

The man who replaced him, J. Maurice McCabe, had ordered a financial audit of the agency’s books after allegations were made public of possible mismanagement by MacDonald, who allegedly took grant funds meant to be used in one area and diverted them to another program.

Shortly after taking over the chairman’s office on Jan. 1, MacDonald appointed five new members to the agency’s board of directors, replacing five members who had been appointed by the former chairman, Raymond Nakai.

The vote to remove McCabe was 5-0 with only the five Navajo members of the board voting. The four non-Navajo members of the board, all of the whom felt McCabe was doing a good job, abstained. ONEO’s deputy director, Marshall Tome, one of McDonald’s biggest supporters, was placed in charge until a permanent replacement was named. Tome, of course, served as editor of the Navajo Times from 1963 to 1968.

Another thing McCabe was looking into was the issuance of an ONEO check for $34,000 to a California firm that an investigation had found to not exist. Not surprisingly, that investigation ended with McCabe’s firing.

The Navajo Forest Products Industries issued its annual report this week 50 years ago, reporting a net profit of $404,403 for the past fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30,1970.

The tribal enterprise had consistently reported profits during the past three years. NFPI officials reported that this year’s profit was the lowest of the past three years and blamed it on a depressed economy nationwide which saw a reduction in house building which, in turn, caused a downturn in the lumber industry.

The company reported paying the tribe just over $1 million in stumpage fees during the past fiscal year. They also reported just under $2 million paid for salaries and bandits.

NFPI has been called one of the best decisions made during the Nakai years. Not only had it provided employment and good salaries to more than 400 Navajos, it had given the tribe the ability to use one of its natural resources that was underdeveloped.


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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