50 years ago

Hopi man seeks Navajo Times' help

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 17, 2014

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For reasons that were never explained, the Navajo Times has decided to get involved in an internal dispute that was going on within the Hopi Tribe.

The Times, 50 years ago, decided to give the Rev. Caleb Johnson, who was at that time a chaplain in the U.S. Army, a forum to explain his beliefs that bad things were going on within the Hopi Tribe and he needed the Navajo Times' help in bringing these injustices public since many members of the tribe were habitual readers of the Times.

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For most readers of the Times, this probably marked their introduction to Johnson. By the early 70s, his name would appear regularly in the paper, as he would be a main source for reporters for everything from traditional Hopi beliefs to his involvement in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. Over the years, he would also write hundreds of letters to the Times and other newspapers.

"As I understand it," Johnson said, "the Hopi controversy is over whether the Hopi Indians will govern the tribe or whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs will."

The interesting part of all of this is that the same questions would eventually be a major issue on the Navajo Reservation as first Raymond Nakai and then his successor, Peter MacDonald, would push to eliminate the authority of BIA officials.

On both the Navajo and Hopi reservations, the BIA still had a lot of power in the early 1960s. Any tribal council resolution of any importance had to be approved by the BIA. This included tribal budgets, hiring of attorneys and anything dealing with contracts.

Johnson said this had not been a problem before 1936 because the Hopi Tribe was ruled by the traditional chiefs of the Hopi villages. These chiefs were noted for their refusal to listen to the BIA.

So what the BIA did was something similar to what they did on the Navajo Reservation. BIA officials convinced the Hopi people that the way they should go was to reorganize under a plan that the BIA had drawn up.

"The (BIA) commissioner felt the time was ripe to Ôapply' this self-government to the Hopi Indians, not because they asked for it, but because the commissioner decided that it was good for them," Johnson said.

"I have found through the years that the BIA always apply what they think is good for the Indians regardless of what the Indians think," he added.

He was not a big fan of the creation of the Hopi Tribal Council back in 1936 after an election in which a majority of Hopis voted in favor of having a constitution. Johnson pointed out that only 651 Hopis voted in favor of the constitution. He questioned the vote since the tribal population was 4,500 and most traditional Hopis apparently decided not to participate, something that they would continue to do to this day.

"I believe that the Hopi chiefs will continue to work against the tribal council because they are only trying to push the program of the commissioner on the Hopi people," he said.

This issue of BIA control over the tribal governments would continue for the rest of the 60s and would only die down when U.S. President Richard Nixon began enacting policies that would allow tribal governments to have more control over their own affairs.

It was Nixon who would put into effect Public Law 93-638 which allows tribal governments to take over control of any federal program that operated on their reservation.

In other news, Ned Curran, who was recently hired as the paper's Washington correspondent, reported that the U.S. government was using Navajo culture as a way to make the Russian people feel more kindly to America.

There was a magazine titled "America" that was circulated throughout Russia. All of the stories were in the Russian language and the Russian government agreed to make it available to Soviet citizens in exchange for the American government making a publication they put out - "USSR" - available to the American people.

Editors of the American magazine decided to do an excerpt of "Laughing Boy" in the issue. The excerpt was of the section where the Navajo boy was attending a ceremony. Curran said the book is full of imagery and literary quality, which may prove puzzling to the Russians trying to learn the language.

He added, "There is a small spring of Navajo that ought to thoroughly confuse them."

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