50 Years Ago

Nakai v. Council's old guard

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

June 26, 2014

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What are we going to do about the Navajo Times?

That question was being discussed a lot 50 years ago with the decision of the paper's general manager, Chet MacRorie, to step down from his position because of all of the problems he was having with the tribe's chairman, Raymond Nakai.



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Nakai was actually quite happy that MacRorie was stepping down because he felt it was obvious that MacRorie was a supporter of the former chairman, Paul Jones, and he felt that the paper continued to support the old guard on the Council - those members who still felt an allegiance to Jones and his policies.

The problem was that no one knew who to name to replace MacRorie. Let's change that. Nakai knew who he wanted to replace Marshall Tome but his choice was someone connected to his administration and he knew if he put someone in who was admittedly pro-Nakai, the Council would balk and would just refuse to approve him.

But he also knew that he didn't want to make Tome, the paper's editor, the new general manager. Tome had been Jones' public relations director and he was probably a bigger supporter of Jones than MacRorie was.

What was needed was someone who would bring credibility to the paper but not someone who would actually produce a paper that told the whole truth about what was going on within the tribe.

Until that person was found - and at this point no one knew who that person was - Tome was put in as both manager and editor.

It didn't take long for him to speak out on issues.

He put out a press release in late June calling for peace between the two factions within the tribal government so that a budget could be approved.

The Council had been working on the budget for eight weeks and the process had bogged down because the anti-Nakai faction wanted to use the budget to change the way the tribe was organized.

The tribal chairman under the rules that had been in place since 1933 - and would continue to be in place until 1990 - the chairman also acted as speaker of the Council. In other words, he ran both the executive and legislative branches and since he appointed the judges, he basically ran that branch as well.

The anti-Nakai faction, which was composed of about half the Council delegates, wanted to strip Nakai of his Council duties and have someone else appointed or elected to head the Council. They also wanted to make changes so that Nakai would not have as much power over the tribal courts as he did.


What they wanted was to create a system similar to the one the tribe operates under today with three branches and the elected leader overseeing the executive branch.

But the problem, said Tome, is that the old guard went too far. They wanted to strip Nakai of practically all of his authority.

For example, said Tome, if the budget the anti-Nakai faction passed, it would require the Council to approve any new hire, such as a secretary. And doing this would just bog down the system in a major way and nothing would get done.

To end the impasse, Tome decided that, as editor of the paper, it was his duty to try to bring reason to the budget process so he came out strongly for the two sides to take a breath and come up with a compromise that everyone could live with.

Nakai didn't want to talk to the Council. He believed, and he said so every chance he got, that the old guard was out of touch with Navajo voters and if an election was held the next month he would easily end up with 70 percent of the vote.

The anti-Nakai faction on the Council eventually agreed because they would end up dropping almost everything they wanted to do to reduce Nakai's view of tribal sovereignty.

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