50 Years Ago: Three protesters praised in editorial

We have pointed out in past columns that 1969 marked the start of a youth movement on the Navajo Reservation to address social issues in border towns like Gallup. But this weekend marked a huge increase in intensity and it was obvious to everyone who bought the Navajo Times this week which side the paper was on.

In a front-page story and especially on the editorial page, the Times lavishly praises three young Navajos who are stepping up and fighting for their rights to denounce organizations such as the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial and how it treated Navajo culture and the Navajo people.

The three – Michael Benson from Shiprock, June Tracy from Ganado and Linda Hubbard from Window Rock – personify the new young Indian, said the Times. “They represent a growing number of militant young Indians,” stated the Times’ editorial. “These are the type of young people that the ‘old guard’ must contend with,” said the Times editorial. “They are not satisfied with the status quo and they will cause much turmoil on the reservation in the years ahead.”

The event that brought them to the attention of the local media occurred about a month before. They had decided to conduct a peaceful protest during the 1969 Ceremonial by passing out leaflets to tourists and others who attended the event. They weren’t planning to make a scene or take anything away from the event itself. They just wanted people to understand their position.

To do this, they printed up copies of a one-page leaflet titled, “When our Grandfathers Carried Guns.” In it, they made a list of charges against the Ceremonial and the businesses in Gallup for not showing respect to Indian people.

They were prevented from passing out the leaflets on the Ceremonial grounds. They are now preparing to file a lawsuit against the Ceremonial Association and the city of Gallup for violating their civil rights and violating the freedom of speech doctrine outlined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They are being represented by DNA-People’s Legal Services attorneys, which this week sent both the association and the city a letter telling them of their plans and what they had to do to stop the lawsuit from being filed.

What they wanted was a complete and public apology from every member of the association’s board of directors. The apology must be in the form of a letter signed by all members of the board. The association also needed to issue a press release to local and state media explaining the reason for the apology and agreeing that in the future they would not take these kinds of action again. The association also had to agree to take out a prominent ad in the Gallup newspaper if it didn’t publish it in a prominent article.

The association was also required to return the leaflets that were confiscated by Ceremonial staff and pay the three $500 in damages.

Within a day of receiving the letter, the Ceremonial issued its own statement refusing to even consider the demands. The Times was editorial stated that the newspaper did not agree with all of the assertions, however the paper said the association had no right to keep the three from distributing their leaflets.

The paper had been critical of DNA practices in the past and used this opportunity to point out that the demands were so severe that the association members would be required to “grovel in the dirt” to meet them. In fact, the editorial said, it was quite possible that DNA set this whole thing up in advance knowing that the leaflets would be confiscated so they could then file a lawsuit. “If we know the association members, they will definitely not kneel down and kiss anyone’s feet, which seems to be what DNA is demanding,” the editorial stated.

In other news, Dick Hardwick, the paper’s editor, took readers behind the scenes at the opening of the new Fairchild building a couple of weeks before. He pointed out that there were a lot of Secret Service agents at the event because of the attendance of President Nixon’s daughter, Julie, and her husband, David Eisenhower.

As the dignitaries were escorted to the stage, Carl Todacheenie, the master of ceremonies, was holding one of those large scissors that are used at these kind of events to cut the ribbon in front of the building. But as soon as an agent saw the scissors, he grabbed them from Todacheenie’s hand and told him he would get it back just before the cutting ceremony began. Evidently the Secret Service was concerned that someone would use the scissors on the president’s daughter or her husband. Once the cutting ceremony was done, the agents took possession of the scissors again.

And finally, Hardwick gave readers an update on the health of Hackberry Johnson, who had been attending tribal fairs for decades along with his favorite buffalo, Castro. As the story goes, the 2,000-pound buffalo became a little cantankerous during the winter and caused Johnson to hit his head soundly on the ground and he spent several days in a local hospital. That still is not preventing the 81-year-old and his buffalo from attending the Western Navajo Fair this weekend.

“I don’t feel worth a darn,” Johnson said. “I drink a pint of whisky a week but I might have to increase that a little until I start feeling better.”



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.