50 Years Ago: Companies asked to donate to NCC

Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai did something this month that no tribal leader has done in the past: He invited the heads of some 60 companies that do business with the tribe to a special meeting he held at the Window Rock Civic Center. He didn’t tell any of them the purpose of the meeting (the press was even kept in the dark). All he said was that this was an important meeting to discuss the future of the Navajo Tribe.

About half of the companies held oil and coal leases with the tribe and the expectation was that Nakai would announce that proposals for more energy development on the reservation were being accepted. The tribe already had coal operations in the Kayenta and Black Mesa areas and numerous oil and natural gas agreements in the Aneth and Shiprock areas. It also had more agreements with uranium companies. But the meeting had nothing to do with that. Instead, Nakai spent more than an hour making a pitch to the companies to donate to the tribe’s new community college, which was set to open in January.

Nakai said the opening of the college would change the tribe forever and companies would have the opportunity to influence the direction Navajo Community College would take by providing grant money to help fund some of the classes. He told the corporate leaders that the college needed funds to build a vocational training center, a library, a cultural center, a life sciences building, a student union building and a language center.

“Will you think big with me and dream big with me,” he told the company respresentatives. “Will you put your shoulder to the wheel and make the physical plant of this college a reality?” He added that once the college was up and running, he could see a new generation of Navajo students starting careers as schoolteachers, doctors and lawyers. At that time, there were no Navajo doctors or lawyers, although a few students were preparing to go to law and medical schools.

Less than five percent of the teachers on the reservation were Navajo. “Would you take a bold step to become, in the truest sense of the word, your brother’s keeper?” Nakai asked. In the weeks that followed, the tribe received financial support from a number of the corporations with several saying they would provide an annual grant for scholarships.

Some also agreed to supply money toward the building of a library. But this would also turn out to be a very important meeting for the Navajo Times because it sparked an idea in the mind of the paper’s editor, Dick Hardwick.

Hardwick attended the meeting and heard corporate leaders say they agreed with Nakai that they had a responsibility to help the tribe prosper because if the tribe benefited so would the companies that did business with it. He came up with doing an annual edition of the paper called Progress, which would allow the government and its programs to submit articles about how successful they had been in the previous year and some of their plans for the coming year.

For the next decade or so, the tribe would publish the special edition and double the usual number of pages because the paper would ask these same corporate leaders to buy ads congratulating the tribe for its progress. This became a major source of income for the paper because the big energy companies would buy full-page ads with others buying half- and quarter-page ads. Hardwick would later say that it took little effort to get the ads because the companies wanted to show support for the tribe and felt it would look bad if their ad didn’t appear in that issue. And to be truthful, while this brought in a lot of money it also produced without a doubt the most boring issue of the paper on an annual basis.

Some 25 or so programs each year would submit articles telling basically what their programs did. Most were long and dry and included photos of various members of the program looking straight at the camera. Hardwick said he knew the articles would be boring but he didn’t have the staff to go out and write entertaining stories so he would edit the articles solely for length and hope for the best. It turned out, however, that everyone seemed to love that edition of the paper.

The corporations got a big publicity boost, the programs were allowed to give themselves a pat on the back and the government would get, at a big discount, several thousand copies they could send to members of Congress and to anyone else who wanted to know about the tribe. This edition became such a moneymaker for the tribe that the paper later created an annual tourist edition and a special edition for the Window Rock fair.

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Categories: 50 Years Ago

About 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.