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50 Years Ago: Editor steps down, reflects on his service

A few days after stepping down as editor of the Navajo Times in the spring of 1971, Dick Hardwick was interviewed about his experience running the tribal newspaper for more than three years.

Working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the time, Hardwick was loaned to the tribe when then-Chairman Raymond Nakai said he could not find anyone who met his qualifications for the job. Nakai wanted someone who would not be controversial and would just put out a paper that didn’t write negative stories about the tribal government.

Since he would still be getting paid by the BIA with instructions not to make waves, Hardwick seemed to be the perfect person to run the Times and for the most part, he was able to keep a low profile.

The first time he strayed from this was 50 years ago when he decided to publish an editorial in support of the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial, which had just been sued by DNA-People’s Legal Services after ordering three young Navajos to stop passing out anti-Ceremonial material during the event.

In one editorial, Hardwick criticized the Ceremonial Association for ejecting the three protestors from the Ceremonial grounds. But the following week, he followed up with an editorial praising the people who put the event on annually, saying that the event itself was respectful of Indian culture and Native Americans.

In the 1971 interview, Hardwick said he expected to get a lot of criticism from young readers of the paper for standing up for the Ceremonial but he was surprised about the level of criticism he received from several readers.

The best example of this came from J. Tonny Bowman, a student at the University of Utah who later in life would run unsuccessfully for tribal chairman and serve as a tribal judge.
“Mr. Hardwick, you have chosen to speak for the entire Navajo Tribe and me in your editorial but you don’t know a word of Navajo,” Bowman wrote. “You are using my public Navajo money to spread your hatred against the Navajos and me.”

This question was something that Hardwick said he thought about when he took over as editor of the paper.

While he was the paper’s editor and had the authority to write editorials, the owner of the paper was the Navajo Tribe, which, in his mind, meant that Nakai could be viewed as the paper’s publisher.

Because of this and the fact that he was a non-Indian, Hardwick made it a policy not to write editorials attacking Nakai or the tribe.

He followed this policy for his first two years but as he entered his third year, he started taking small jabs at tribal leaders. He would not come out and criticize them but he was willing to repeat criticism that came from others.

He would, on occasion, attack the BIA, feeling this was in line with the feelings of tribal leaders, but, his editorials usually centered on praising this or that organization for their service to the Navajo people.

But Hardwick apparently felt a need to support the Ceremonial, in part because some members of the Navajo Nation Council had shown support for the event in the past and several members of the organization’s board were close friends, including Ike Merry, the event’s director.

This did not sit well with Bowman.

“Mr. Hardwick, you and your buddies, the Ike Merrys, have been the scourge of the Indians for years. I shall assure you that the protests at the Ceremonial will not stop until people like you stop lying and admit that Indians are being exploited,” said Bowman.

Speaking of letters to the editor, Hardwick, in his column in that week’s Navajo Times, informed readers that the subject that got the biggest response from readers wasn’t the editorial, but the comic strip published each week.

The paper published the Rick O’Shay comic for several years. The comic was created in 1955 and ended in 1981 but the Times started using it in 1965 until the late 1970s.

The strip centered on O’Shay, who was a deputy sheriff in a small, old Western town that was not big enough to support a full sheriff. Each strip followed his efforts to keep peace in the town populated by a gunslinger and gamblers.

Other major characters in the strip, and the reason why the Times purchased it, included Chief Horse’s Neck, his ugly but sweet daughter, Moonglow, and Crazy Quilt, who kept trying to get her to marry him.

The humor, as could be expected, was broad and while Moonglow was treated with some respect, the depiction of Chief Horse’s Neck and Crazy Quilt bordered on slapstick and probably would not be tolerated today.

Hardwick said he received a lot of letters over the years commenting on how the comic strip portrayed Indians but there were no other comic strips that featured Native Americans as regulars.
He also pointed out that there were a lot of the paper’s readers who wrote in saying that was the first thing they turned to when they bought the paper.

This was the kind of strip that you either loved or hated but in any case it was a popular portion of the paper.

The strip only cost the paper $30 a week and this probably played a big part as well since the paper was still struggling financially.

Under the tribe’s policy at that time, the paper was given a budget of just $95,000 a year but revenue was about $85,000 a year. Even with the BIA paying Hardwick’s salary, the paper was not bringing in enough to support more than one full-time reporter.

Hardwick did manage eventually to get money to hire a full-time photographer but tribal budget officials nixed adding positions for reporters until the paper started generating more money.



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.