50 Years Ago: Biggest piñon crop in more than 30 years

This was a big week for Perry Allen, the chief prosecutor for the Navajo Tribe. Twenty-five years after he was wounded in Saipan in July 1944, he finally received his Purple Heart thanks to the efforts of tribal leaders and family members who wrote letters to members of Congress and national veteran officials who pointed out the problem. Dick Hardwick, the editor for the Navajo Times, said he attended the event and said there were a number of Navajos still going through the process to get the awards they earned while fighting in World War II and Korea.

Allen’s case, he said, may have been due to a clerical error. Although he was taken to a military hospital right after the battle for treatment of a hand injury, he was listed as “missing in action” for almost a month. In other news, a week after the Navajo Times printed an editorial supporting the right of three young members of the tribe to pass out leaflets critical of the Gallup Ceremonial during the event, the paper printed another editorial supporting the event itself.

The editorial, written by Hardwick, pointed out that while there may be cause to criticize the Ceremonial Association for some of its management of the event, no one has questioned its authenticity.

Yes, motels and restaurants would raise their rates during the four-day event to make as much as they could from tourists and Navajos who attended, but Native Americans who signed up to participate in the dances made sure that the presentation upheld their standards. “No one is keeping the Indians from attending the event,” said the editorial, “Why do they attend? The answer is simple. They attend because they like it and this is a free country and they can go where they like.”

And that is why, said the editorial, that the accusations themselves about the way the Ceremonial treats its performers are so absurd. If the performers felt they were being mistreated, they wouldn’t come back year after year but they do. Some have been coming back for decades, the editorial stated. While the performers get paid, the people who put on the event each year don’t get paid and their whole goal is to put on as good a show as possible. There is no law against gouging the public and the Ceremonial has no control over what others may charge.

“Some of the things that happen during the Ceremonial are nothing to brag about, but the event itself is worthy of the highest praise,” Hardwick wrote.

In other news, the Navajo Times pointed out that snowfall last winter had given a big gift to Navajo families – the biggest piñon crop in more than 30 years. There were estimates during that time that as many as half the Navajo population picked piñons during the fall to make extra money.

It was a common sight to see entire families spending the weekend picking piñons. This year’s crop was spread throughout the reservation and nearby areas so families didn’t have to travel far to get as many as they wanted.

The Times also pointed out demand for piñons was high this year as traders on the reservation began realizing a decade or so ago that they also could make a high profit wholesaling the piñons to stores all across the Southwest. The bad news was that because of the huge crop, prices were down slightly from the year before but it was still very profitable to spend a few weekends going around and picking piñons.

The Times did issue one cautionary note: Be careful where you do your picking. While there were no problems picking on reservation and federal forest lands, picking on private lands could create problems. There had been reports in recent years of ranchers forcing Navajo families at gunpoint off of their lands either because they wanted to pick the crop themselves or they didn’t like strangers on their lands. That, however, wasn’t a problem this year since there was enough of the product available on reservation and federal lands to meet everyone’s needs.

And finally, the Navajo Times had to set the record straight about a statement in last week’s editorial. In the editorial, it referred to Michael Benson, one of the three young Navajos suing the Ceremonial, as an editor of the “Sandpainter” a publication put out by the area VISTA program. The real editor of the publication wrote a letter to the Times saying they never heard of Benson and the Times had to admit it made the identification on the word of one of its staffers, who turned out to be wrong. At the same time, Hardwick pointed out that this was only the second correction the paper had to print so far in 1969, so he felt the paper was doing an excellent job in being accurate in its reporting.



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.