50 years ago: Electricity comes to LeChee, residents plan for development

On July 12, 1968, life changed forever for residents of LeChee, a small community located about five miles south of Page, when electricity finally arrived.

This was made possible by an agreement between Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and Arizona Public Service Company, which was planning to bring power in the near future to other Navajo communities in that area. Pete Riggs, who represents LeChee on the Navajo Tribal Council, said that with electricity the people of LeChee can start thinking about getting some kind of industry to the area.

The community has an unemployment level of almost 60 percent despite the fact that it’s located so close to Page. Riggs thinks that the chapter will also be able to start attracting tourists because of its proximity to Lake Powell. “We can start looking at getting some motels here as well as a convenience store and a gas station,” he said, adding that people in the chapter are looking forward to also having electrical power in their homes.

Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai, in a press release issued by his office, welcomed the people in LeChee to the modern age, promising that the tribe will do all it can to bring industry to the community. In other news, the Navajo Tribe was also taking a major leap forward in its financial future.

Up to now, the tribe has been keeping all investment monies in the U.S. treasury earning about 4 percent per year in interest. But some members of the Council have been wondering if they could do better by investing the money in stocks and bonds, seeing how well the stock market was doing at the time.

Putting the money into safe companies would yield more than the rate being paid by the federal government. Tribal leaders had thought about this before but past efforts were stymied by the refusal of the Interior Department to approve allowing the tribe to take their funds out to invest because of a fear that they would lose it and then claim it was the government’s fault for allowing them to invest the money in the first place.

But things have changed in the past few years and Congress seemed more willing to trust tribal governments to manage their own affairs and to use their funds more wisely.

The approval of oil leases and other mining projects on the reservation has resulted in the Navajo Tribe having more than $80 million in the treasury and the Council was told by BIA officials that it could take a portion of this to begin an investment program as long as it was conducted in a safe and sane manner.

On July 9, the Council agreed to take out $20 million and to set up an investment committee made up of Council members as well as people from the outside who had financial experience. The BIA would continue to monitor the committee but it had the full authority to invest the money in any way it desired.

The Council also tabled a resolution that would have allowed Navajo police to use radar to determine how fast drivers were going. Other police departments off the reservation were using this device to catch speeders and the police department was asking for permission to start using the devices in some of its units.

This caused a lot of debate in the Council with some delegates feeling uncertain if they could trust the devices to give accurate readings. There had been a number of articles in newspapers across the country about problems police departments were having with radar whose accuracy could be affected by weather conditions.

For that reason and concerns about the cost, the members of the Council decided to play it safe and wait until the radar units become more accurate and reliable.

And finally, although it is too early to start congratulating themselves, tribal leaders have given themselves an A-plus in the way the government celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of 1868. The re-enactment of the Long Walk resulted in a ton of publicity by newspaper and by television reporters, a couple of whom stayed with the 150 Navajos as they traveled to Fort Sumner. Tribal officials estimated that more than 60,000 people lined up along the way to watch as the members of the walk went by along the route.

Because there were some elderly among those who were participated in the march, the tribe had medical personnel available but, except for sore muscles and a broken ankle, no major medical problems had occurred.

Many newspapers, including the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican, even editorialized and praised the tribe for its celebration and basically apologizing for the way the Navajos were treated 100 years ago by the federal government.

The New Mexican went further by apologizing to the Navajo people for the way they have been treated in the past by government programs that tried to do away with their culture and traditions.

And this was at a time when the federal government was still keeping secret the role tribal members had played in World War II. That secret would be released publicly by the federal government in a few weeks and there were some who believed that one of the reasons why the government released the information was because of all of the publicity the tribe got with its centennial celebration.

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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.