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50 Years Ago: New office location for newspaper staff

The Navajo TImes had become an “underground” newspaper, according to Dick Hardwick, the newspaper’s editor for the past two years. Only the newspaper was not going to be published without official approval, which is the usual meaning of the word. Instead, Hardwick was announcing to his readers that the paper was moving.

Since its inception almost nine years earlier, the paper was produced by staff from three small rooms in a building near the Council Chamber. Hardwick had been complaining for years that the space was too small for the paper’s growing staff. In September of 1969, the tribe’s Facilities Management Department told Hardwick he could move to the basement of the Window Rock Recreation Hall, which had just recently been renovated. Hardwick was ecstatic.

“We have nice, paneled offices with plenty of light and heat. In fact, the heat has been so intense that we have already been driven out of the building on occasion,” he said. Being in better surroundings, he added, would help the staff put out a better paper. The big news that week was that the tribal leadership was continuing to try to shut down DNA-People’s Legal Services, the reservation’s legal aid agency.

While the federally funded agency continued to have the strong support of the Navajo people, it constantly came under attack from car dealerships, traders and Navajo Nation officials because of different lawsuits against businesses on and off the reservation for deceptive practices. In recent months, the list of critics had increased by one.

The Republican Party began lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., to cut funding for DNA and similar operations. This was led by U.S. Rep. Sam Steiger, who represented the northeast corner of Arizona. Steiger had been complaining for more than a year that the class action suits being filed by DNA were creating a financial burden on businesses, which were being forced to spend thousands of dollars defending themselves.

So far, DNA had managed to stay above the onslaught but officials were complaining about spending too much time justifying their existence, time that would have been better spent defending the interests of their clients.

The situation had become so bad that DNA was one of only three offices funded by the federal government where the money came directly to the office instead of through the state or tribal governments. (As a side note, Steiger would win this dispute four years later when he got DNA to agree to stop using federal funds to file class action suits.)

The issue came up again this week 50 years ago, as reported by the Times, when Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai led a group of tribal leaders to Washington where they met with officials of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal agency that provided funding to DNA.

Nakai argued that allowing DNA to file lawsuits against the tribe was a violation of sovereign immunity. He said he wanted DNA shut down and the funds turned over to the tribe so they could start their own legal aid agency.

According to the Times, these pleas got nowhere, in part because DNA was getting a lot of support from grassroots Navajos and from chapters who passed resolutions in support of what DNA was accomplishing. In other news, the tribe had begun complaining about severe cutbacks in federal programs on the reservation.

Just the previous week, the tribe had learned that U.S. President Richard Nixon was going to cut funding to the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project by 75 percent in 1970. Hardwick, in an editorial in the Times, questioned why the project was being cut back while another water project that would benefit white ranch owners was getting more funds.

He said when he asked the question to Washington officials, he was told it was because the two projects were being funded by different federal agencies. Whether this was racism or not was beside the point, said Hardwick. The result was that the Navajo project continued to lag further and further behind while the other project was speeding toward completion.

And finally, Hardwick took time this week to defend the Times’ letter to the editor policies. It seems that the paper had been criticized for not printing some letters and cutting the lengths of others. Hardwick said most of the letters that were not printed did not have authors’ signatures and the paper would not print letters that were not signed.

The paper also would not print letters where the signature was suspect. For example, one letter writer signed his name “I am Navajo” while another had a signature that could not be deciphered. As for letters being cut, Hardwick said almost every week the paper would get one or more letters that were several typed pages long. The paper had a 600-word limit for letters. If the paper could cut the letter to that size and still relay its meaning, the letter was published. If not, it was returned to the author with instructions to reduce its length.



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.