50 Years Ago: Flagstaff responds to complaints from Diné

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time where members of the tribe became vocal in their complaints about how they were treated in border communities near the Navajo Reservation.

Most of the complaints centered on Gallup and Farmington but there were also complaints being raised about Holbrook, Winslow and Flagstaff in Arizona and claims that Navajos felt some businesses in these communities did not treat them with respect.

Officials in Flagstaff were aware of these complaints, which may be the reason why 50 years ago a committee was set up by the city to look for a way to show Native Americans that the city appreciated their business. As part of this effort, the city formed an Indian Relations Committee, which met six times a year to discuss ways to improve relations with the Native American community.

The committee had helped in past meetings with business owners in the city and emphasized the need to treat all of their customers alike.

In their latest meeting, the committee’s chairman, Frank Dickerson, appointed members to look into whether the city needed an Indian visitors center and, if so, how much would it cost and who would operate it. The new committee was tasked with the responsibility of going to the 15 chapters in the western portion of the reservation whose members shop frequently in Flagstaff and getting their suggestions and input. The four members were also told to listen to chapter officials and see what kinds of problems that Navajos face when they come to Flagstaff and provide suggestions on how these problems can be resolved. The group was also told to make plans to visit the Hopi Tribal Council and get their input as well. It was also pointed out that nearly all of the complaints that had come before the committee in the past has come from members of the Navajo Tribe.

Another suggestion that came up and was being considered by the committee was the creation of a small booklet that could be given to clerks at businesses in Flagstaff, which provided details on how they needed to treat Native American customers. The booklet would also teach the clerks facts about Navajo and Hopi culture to give them a better understanding of the Native people they may come into contact with.

One aspect of all is this was the reminder that almost all of the clerks were non-Indian. This brought up the issue of businesses hiring more Native Americans as clerks but members of the committee said they did not want to get into a situation where they were telling the business owners whom they should hire.Another suggestion that was made and approved was to invite leaders of both tribes to be guests of the city at its upcoming Indian arts and crafts show at the Museum of Northern Arizona. If the leaders were agreeable to come, the suggestion was to hold a luncheon in their honor.

In other news, officials in the tribe’s Census Office are reporting a huge increase in the number of young people wanting to be enrolled as members of the tribe. The office is reportedly receiving a couple of hundred requests a month instead if the normal 20 to 25. Many of these requests are coming from Navajo families who have moved off of the reservation after the end of World War II in an effort by returning servicemen to find employment.

There was some thought that one of the reasons for the increase has been the media attention off the reservation to efforts by the tribe to increase money for tribal scholarships. If this is so, there is a fear that the increased interest will mean increased applications for scholarships at a time when demand is already exceeding the amount of money available.

Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai has already gone on record as saying if the demand for scholarships increases, it will be up to tribal leaders to find more money to meet these needs.

There is also another concern and that centers around questions dealing with blood quantum. Tribal law required that a person seeking membership in the tribe have at least a quarter blood Navajo but, as more and more Navajos marry outside the tribe, there is a concern that more will be asking to have that quarter blood level be lowered. So far tribal leaders are opposed to that, saying the blood quantum level now in effect also complies with federal law.

And finally, several students at Wingate High have written a letter to the Navajo Times saying Navajos who have been causing problems at Intermountain School in Utah should be ashamed of themselves. The school has been under investigation for reports of failing to control some of their students who have been reportedly going out and drinking at night and destroying school property. The Wingate students – Betty Ashley, Marjorie Gus, Josephine Ashley and Ann Harris – said that these kinds of reports cause parents to be worried. “Let’s not put up such a bad example,” they said.


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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.