50 Years Ago: Missing 16-year-old found after lengthy trip to Mexico

Although the kidnapping of a 16-year-old Navajo girl did not occur on the Navajo Reservation, the kidnapping had gained some attention on the reservation because one of her relatives was a member of the New Mexico Legislature.

He had been keeping the media aware of what was going on in the hopes that someone would spot the girl and report her whereabouts to the authorities. Marilyn Paul, who was the niece of State Rep. Wilbur Begay of San Juan County was returned home safely to her family after what may have been a case of a family dispute over parental rights.

She had been kidnapped on Oct. 23 on her way to school in Salt Lake City and was kept in Lehi, Utah, before finally being taken to San Francisco and then Mexico City, where she was found, Begay told the Navajo Times.

Begay said the kidnapper was found in Lehi and was arrested on kidnapping charges. He is now in a Utah jail in lieu of a $5,000 bond. His wife was apprehended in Mexico City and is awaiting extraction back to the United States.

Begay did not provide any details except to say that the family was happy to have Marilyn back with hopes that the persons responsible for the crime are punished.

In other news, a special committee set up by the Navajo Tribal Council to look into conditions at Intermountain Boarding School has issued its findings and they are worse than anyone expected.

The largest BIA boarding school with hundreds of Navajo students had come under attack the previous summer for failure to supervise the students properly, resulting in many of them drinking and getting into mischief.

The school has an enrollment of more than 2,000 students ranging in age from six to 24. But the report said that was just the tip of the problem as evidence was found that students were allowed to skip classes and older students had gotten addicted to glue sniffing. “Apparently glue sniffing has become rather popular and we have found many instances where peyote was taken even though there are no members of the Native American Church attending the school,” the report said.

The report said many of the older students drink on a regular basis and travel to Iowa to get their liquor. The report recommended that a night watchman be hired to check on students when they come back from Iowa to make sure they are not bringing liquor onto the campus. The report also recommended that officials at the school make it plain to students that liquor and peyote are not permitted on campus and anyone who was found in possession of either could face being dismissed from the school.

Wilma L Victor, who had received an award two years ago for being one of the top women in the federal government, was blamed for the current problems and the report strongly recommended that she be replaced immediately.

The report said the staff at the school had apparently given up on any effort to provide supervision over the students at night and on weekends. Instead, they apparently turned over this function to members of the student council. The report recommended that the staff be trained in overseeing the students and that they be made aware that this is part of their job and if they don’t accept that responsibility, they stand to be replaced by people who would be able to do it.

The report urged that any student over 21 who is found breaking the rules be expelled and that those who are below 21 face suspensions.

Of a more troubling concern was the fact that many of the younger students who went to the school complained of being bullied frequently by the older students. The report also found many instances of where a younger student was placed in the same room with an older student. The report recommended that rooms be assigned to students of the same age and that the dorms of older students be separated from those of the younger students to keep the age groups apart after classes were over.

The investigation also found that the older students were destroying clothing that was supplied by the school because it was too old or had been used for too long a period. The report recommended that the school take this up to the suppliers who would be asked to provide more popular types of clothing. The report also recommended that the clothing be given to students from age six to 16 since most of the problems seemed to be with those 17 or above.

Copies of the report, which was released to the media this week, will now be presented to members of the Council which is expected to take up the matter when the Council meets in February.

Franklin Eriacho, director of the alcoholism program in the Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity, wrote a piece for the Navajo Times this week which said that the alcoholism problem on the reservation is getting worse. One out of every 11 Navajo who drinks is a chronic alcoholic, he said, adding that more than 50 percent of the Navajos who are in the hospital or in jail are there because of alcoholism or its effects.

He said he realized that there was a movement to legalize alcohol sales on the reservation but this would have no effect on the alcoholism rate. It would, however, cut down on the number of fatal accidents on roads to and from the reservation because alcoholics would be able to buy liquor in their home chapter rather than having to go to border communities.

Is this enough reason to allow liquor sales? He said he didn’t know. That would only be determined if there was a referendum on the issue but he added that was not OK because the issue has become so politicized.

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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.