50 Years Ago: Plummer begins 20-plus years as head of BIA’s Eastern Agency

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced this week that Edward O. Plummer has been named the agency superintendent for the Eastern Agency.

This may have been the biggest appointment made by the BIA during the 1960s since Plummer would hold that position for more than 20 years and enact a number of changes that would improve the quality of life for Navajos living in the Checkerboard area.

It was also during his time that the tribe, with the encouragement of the BIA, would begin a series of land exchanges in an attempt to bring together parcels of land in the Checkerboard area so it wouldn’t be so fragmented.

When he was appointed to the superintendent position, the Navajo Times said Plummer had been head of the tribe’s land investigatory department for 11 years. The Times didn’t explain what that department did but it apparently didn’t do any investigations into illegalities but looked into ownership issues.

During the time he served with the BIA, he was probably the most well known of the agency superintendents as well as the most popular.

In other news, the Times reported three separate plane crashes during the previous week with three people dying. It was unusual to have two plane crashes in a decade but three in one week was unheard of, said the Times.

Fred Nedieheimer, 40, of Bountiful, Utah crashed his plane on April 17 as he was taking off from the airstrip at Navajo, New Mexico. The Times reported he was in critical condition at the Fort Defiance IHS hospital.

The Times said that there was no cause listed for the accident but reported that while the weather was clear, there were reports of high wind gusts at the time. He was reported to be a representative of a sprinkler firm out of Colorado.

Two people died on April 21 in a plane crash near Kayenta.

The two were reported to be from Tucson and were traveling from Las Vegas, Nevada, back home when their plane encountered a major snowstorm near Kayenta and they lost their bearing.

The third victim was a Phoenix man who was flying to Farmington and went down is a snowstorm near the Twin Lakes Trading Post north of Gallup. The plane had been reported missing and the wreckage was found by a Navajo sheepherder near the trading post, said the Times.

As that issue of the Times was going to press, the Navajo Tribal Council was discussing the future of DNA, the legal aid organization on the Navajo Reservation.

This was part of an attempt by Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai and Peter MacDonald, head of ONEO, to close down the legal aid agency and get Ted Mitchell, its director, fired.

Since becoming head of DNA, Mitchell started filing class-action suits against the tribe and others in an effort to correct some injustices.

The Council, by a vote of 40-8, tabled the resolution, which would have closed DNA and created another agency to replace it.

The debate on the issue began Tuesday and the tabling was late Wednesday afternoon with almost everyone on the Council getting a chance to speak.

DNA was accused of wasting agency funds and failing to assist Navajos in state court. Mitchell denied both allegations.

Although the agency dodged a bullet, the opposition against Mitchell would intensify in the coming months. He eventually was kicked off the reservation in an incident where he got Annie Wauneka, the Council delegate for Klagetoh and Wide Ruins, upset when she saw him laughing during a Council session and thought he was laughing at her.

According to the Times, she walked up to him and slapped him for disrespecting her. The Council censured him and forced him to move his offices to Gallup. He would later say he was laughing at something else and not Wauneka.

Two years later, he resigned from DNA and took a job as head of a legal-aid organization in Micronesia.

The Times, in an editorial that week, defended DNA and Mitchell, saying the agency has fought for the rights of tribal members, which made enemies not only of Nakai and MacDonald but of the tribal courts and police department as well.

Referring to Mitchell as a “young, brash attorney,” the editorial said DNA continually upset the political powers on the reservation and neither Mitchell nor other attorneys seemed to care.

The editorial said that while the actions of the DNA attorneys had helped a lot of tribal members, it could not continue to buck the system because even cats only have nine lives and DNA was fast using up all of theirs.

The paper strongly urged DNA officials to try to work with the institutions on the reservation before it was too late.

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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.