50 years ago

Former Marine selected to manage Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 13, 2014

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N avajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai announced 50 years ago that he had gone off the reservation to find the new manager for the Navajo Arts and Crafts Guild, the forerunner of the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise.

The tribe had several applicants from reservation craftspeople but Nakai decided to appoint Carl N. Gorman, a well-known Navajo artist who had been an officer with the Navajo Club of Los Angeles since its inception in 1955.

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Nakai and his staff were impressed not only with Gorman's resume but also with the fact that he had served as a Marine during World War II. His time in the service include being among the first group of Navajos to be trained in using the Navajo language as a code during World War II.

The interesting part about this is that the article in the Navajo Times talked openly about Gorman's role as a Navajo Code Talker during World War II at a time when supposedly this was still being kept secret by the federal government.

In fact, according to historical articles about the Code Talkers, the government was still looking at the possibility of using the code during the early years of the Vietnam War and had done feasibility studies to see if it would work as well during that war.

So there were efforts in 1964 to keep the fact that the Navajo language was being used as a code from getting out. But apparently no one told the Navajo Times because the paper, while not printing major articles on the subject, was not hesitant to refer to the code when it was talking about someone who served in the war as a Code Talker.

By 1964, the news of the Code Talkers was beginning to leak out and finally, in August 1968, the federal government declassified the whole matter and recognized the Code Talkers publicly for the role they played in winning the war.

One of the reasons why Gorman was chosen for the position was that he had experience in putting on shows in California that featured Navajo arts and crafts. Nakai was trying to figure out ways to promote the sale of Navajo arts, especially rug weaving and jewelry making, because of reports that he had seen about how much money the sale of Navajo crafts was bringing to reservation residents.

Up to then, the tribe relied on the traders on the reservation to promote Navajo crafts. Although they were doing a good job in promoting the sale of Navajo rugs, staff in the chairman's office said more needed to be done in the area of Navajo jewelry, which was beginning to become very popular off the reservation as fashion designers and people in the news began using Navajo jewelry to highlight their fashion.

Nakai was hoping that Gorman was the man who would be able to get the Navajo Tribe involved in this new interest in Navajo crafts. This would not only make the guild more profitable but it would also provide more money to Navajo craftspeople.

On an internal note, the Navajo Times announced this week that it had hired its first advertising director, Jack Luttrell, who had worked for the Gallup Independent before coming to the Times.

This was a major step for the Times. From its inception a couple of years before, the Times really had no one pushing its advertising. Various staff members would make a phone call to someone they saw advertising in the Gallup or Farmington papers but it was more to make them aware that the Times was in existence rather than trying to push them into advertising on a regular basis.

Part of the problem was that there was a belief by advertisers in Gallup that the Times had little circulation and most of its readers were young Navajos. In addition, this wasn't the age bracket they were trying to entice to shop in their stores.

Many of the Gallup merchants relied on KGAK with its "famous Navajo hour" to get their message to the older Navajos who were the backbone of their business.

Navajos, as the saying went at that time, were listeners and not readers. Lutrell and other advertising people hired by the Times learned that most business owners in Gallup didn't realize that the Times was beginning to come into its own when it began selling products to Navajos.

At this point, most of the advertisements that appeared in the paper came from people who sought out the Times and not the other way around. Most of the ads were small and inexpensive and many of the advertisers who purchased ads in those days did so to show their support for the Navajo people.

The paper at that time was claiming about 4,000 copies being sold but claimed that this really meant that as many as 20,000 Navajos were reading the paper on a regular basis assuming that each paper had five readers.

Another problem the paper had was money.

It was still being funded on a shoe string, less than $100,000 a year which provided only enough funds for a publisher, editor, three staff people and a contract with an Albuquerque company to print the paper.

But Marshall Tome, the paper's editor, was able to convince the Navajo Nation Budget and Finance Committee that hiring someone to oversee advertising would greatly increase the revenue at the Times and the Times would be able to increase its budget.

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