50 Years Ago: Directors upset at Nakai cuts and plans to hold a chicken pull

There’s a lot of important people in the Navajo tribe who are really, really upset this week at Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai.

For several months, he has threatened to reduce the tribal operating budget, saying that there is a lot of waste and claiming that millions of dollars are being misspent on things that the tribe really doesn’t need.

In May 1965, he showed he wasn’t kidding, presenting a budget for the next fiscal year of just under $17.8 million.

That’s about $9 million less than the one that was initially approved by the council in early May.

All tribal programs will be affected with average cuts of 20 percent.

Vacant positions have been eliminated and cuts have been made in everything from purchase of supplies.

Nakai stressed that no services to the Navajo people will be affected.

He added that over the years, because of all of the money coming in from royalties and energy deals, the tribal budget has doubled and then doubled again as tribal program directors padded their budgets to make sure of the new-found money.

But those days are over, said Nakai.

In other news this week came word that plans for the Fourth of July celebration this year at the Window Rock Fairgrounds will bring back the chicken pull, which at one time was one of the most popular events at the tribal fair in the 1930s.

Tribal historians told the Times that their research showed that the Navajo people picked up the sport from the Spanish when Navajos attended chicken pulls put on by Mexican villages in the 1700s.

Old-timers said they remember their grandparents talking of going to chicken pulls on the reservation through 1861 before the Navajos went on the “Long Walk” to Fort Sumner.

“Originally, a live chicken, usually a rooster, was put in a gunny sack or burlap sack and buried in the ground, with just his neck sticking out of the ground.”

the Times reported.

“Riders on horseback would then pass by the buried chicken and attempt to pull it out by its neck.”

But it didn’t end there.

The competition would include as many as 30 riders and when the chicken or rooster was pulled out, usually in one piece, the other horseback riders would attempt to take the chicken away from the one who pulled it out.

“Usually a big scramble ensued as to whether a chicken would be pulled apart,” said the Times.

“Usually the person having the largest piece of the chicken was awarded something for his efforts.”

The article took note of the fact that even in 1965 that sounded inhumane to the chicken and reported that in recent years, humane groups complained so much that the chicken pull is not allowed in most parts of the United States.

As for the Fourth of July Celebration, tribal officials said no live chicken will be used.

Instead the tribe plans to use a sack filled with sand.

By the way, the Fourth of July Celebration, for the second time, will be called “Ahoohai Days” which refers to the Navajo word for “chicken pull,” according to the Times.

And internally, things are back to normal with Marshall Tome, once again serving as editor of the paper.

Tome was removed as editor two months ago by the Old Guard on the tribal council because of feelings that he was too pro-Nakai and too anti-Old Guard on the council.

But two weeks after he was replaced as editor, he came back as a write, continuing his popular “Smoke Puffs” column and then when the editorship position became vacant again a month after he had been replaced, he quietly stepped in and produced three newspapers.

The three editions of the paper had been pretty non-controversial and since the fight between Nakai and the Old Guard, at least for the moment, seems to have died down, Tome was able to continue serving as editor because no one seemed to mind.

Whether he will be allowed to stay on as editor is anyone’s guess, however.


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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.