50 Years Ago: Gallup comes with hands out, Navajos reject request

Gallup city officials came with their hats in hand to Window Rock to persuade tribal leaders to support their efforts to get $1 million from the state of New Mexico to build a year-round park in Church Rock to host the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial.

City officials said they need the park because the site where the Ceremonial was held each year just north of the railroad has been commissioned by the federal government for a new interstate highway.

Navajo Nation officials rejected the city’s plea and in a blistering editorial the Navajo Times agreed, saying the city of Gallup “has done nothing to improve relations with the tribe for a number of years.”

The fact that the city has come to the tribe for help has only opened old wounds, said the editorial, pointing out that the city’s relationship with other tribes in the area is no better than it is with the Navajos.

But it is not only the city of Gallup but also the merchants who came under criticism from the Navajo Times for the way they have treated Navajos and other Indians who come to the city to shop and socialize.

The Times gave credit to Cecil Largo, a resident of Gamerco, who for years has been complaining about the way the city and the Ceremonial have treated Indians who visit their city and help make the city prosperous.

Largo has been especially critical of the city and the city’s merchants for their refusal to provide financial help to the Gallup Indian Center, which has been falling into “wreck and ruin.” The situation was so bad that in 1965 there was a campaign to get support from the city and its merchants for funding for basic improvements.

The merchants showed no interest in the campaign and the city only agreed to a small reduction in the amount it charged the center for water.

“When it finally falls down,” said Largo, “the Indian will have no place to go to take a shower or relieve himself.”

The Times strongly suggested that if the city is serious about getting any support from to tribe, it should show some good will by getting together with the merchants to figure how a way to secure annual funding for the center that will allow it to be sustainable.

The Times agreed with Largo that some drastic changes needed to be made by the Ceremonial as well, starting with putting Indians on its board of directors.

Without the support of the Indian people, the Ceremonial would not have survived these 47 years and it was time that the Ceremonial board recognized the Navajos and other tribes for their support over the years.

“The Ceremonial, in our opinion, is one of the greatest attractions in the world,” said the Times editorial, “but the audience, which comes from throughout the nation, does not get a glimpse of the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions that the Indian dancers have to live under when they come to dance at the Ceremonial.”

The dancers live in “chicken coop” type structures that don’t have running after and have holes through which rain seeps through.

The Times brought up a situation that occurred a few years ago when it was time for the Apache dancers to perform.

When officials searched the living quarters, they weren’t there. Instead, they were eventually found in the vendor’s area selling arts and crafts in an effort to raise enough money to buy food and gas to get home since the amount they got from the Ceremonial was not enough to pay for one meal.

The Times pointed out that the great majority of the people who came to the Ceremonial were Indians who came into town to find that some restaurants and motels had jacked up their prices by 50 percent or more.

The only merchant in Gallup who has shown any kind of appreciation to their Indian customers has been Rico Menapace, a car dealer who is probably the best known person to Indians who live on the reservation. Menapace has been holding a free barbecue each year during the Ceremonial to show appreciation to area Native Americans but even this has been faltering in recent years, said the Times.

There are other merchants who have been appreciative but for the most part, Gallup merchants seem to feel they could do just as well without their Indian customers.

The Times suggested that the city’s first step should be to follow in the footsteps of another auto dealer in Gallup, Pat Gurley, who recently came to Window Rock with a few other merchants in a goodwill mission.

The editorial ended by stating that Indian people of today are more educated and more aware of the indignities that they have suffered. They are no longer the “stoic Indian” of the past and both the city and the merchants of Gallup would be wise to take note of that.

In other news, Jones Benally, a member of the Bitter Water Clan, came by the Navajo Times office recently to tell the paper’s editor, Dick Hardwick, that he has spent his entire life from the time he could walk “running around in circles.”

And he said he enjoys it so much that he has been traveling around the world, telling people how it is done.

Benally is a highly qualified hoop dancer from Big Mountain who, over the years, has been written up in dozens of newspapers and who is one of the most recognized Indian dancers in the world.

He explained to Hardwick that his dancing is a form of medicine that has been in use by the Navajo people for hundreds of years and the form of the dance has been passed through several generations of his ancestors.

His dances, he said, not only appeal to Indians but he has also received compliments from thousands of non-Indians who have told him of the joy they felt watching him dance.


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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.