Sometimes there are stories that fester for a long time behind the scenes. They don’t make the newspapers until they reach a boiling point.
Back in 1972, one such case involved Herb Blatchford, manager of the Gallup Indian Center, and Emmett “Frankie” Garcia, who had been elected a month ago to be the city’s mayor.
During his campaign, Garcia had made some veiled threats that, if elected, he would make changes at the Indian Center.
I mentioned this in one of my stories about the fact but when I asked Garcia what his problem was with the management of the center, he declined to go into detail, saying only that Blatchford needed to be removed as the center’s manager.
I had been covering the Navajo Tribe for about a year by this time and I had interviewed Blatchford a number of times, mainly to get a feel about the anger Navajo activists were exhibiting about discrimination by Gallup businesses.
Blatchford was not afraid to speak out about the discrimination he saw by white-owned businesses to Indians who came to town to shop and meet friends. I found him to be a good source because the center appeared to be a place where young Navajos upset at conditions within the city seemed to congregate.
I considered Blatchford to be a good source whenever I needed a comment about how the Native Americans in this area felt about the way they were treated when they came to Gallup. If he couldn’t give me a quote, he would be able to find someone visiting the center who would be willing to give me a good quote.
What I didn’t realize was that by using Blatchford in this way, I was putting a target on his back, one that could have dire consequences on the job he had held since 1963.
By early March 1972, I began to realize that his decision to be quoted may be upsetting city officials. But by then, it may have been too late.
On March 15, the center’s board held a special meeting and Blatchford suggested I attend. It turned out to be a very tumultuous meeting.
50 Years Ago | Indian Center manager faces mayor’s effort to oust him
It began with Garcia, who was a member of the board as a representative of the city. He introduced a motion to fire Blatchford because of the way he was doing his job.
The Navajo members on the board refused to go along with this and many people in the audience began yelling to remove Garcia from the board.
Realizing his motion had no chance of passing, Garcia withdrew it and substituted it with a motion to suspend Blatchford so an investigation could look into the way Blatchford handled his job.
“It’s all city politics,” he said, adding that the mayor had been against him ever since he began criticizing him for his part ownership of the Navajo Inn, a controversial bar located near the Navajo Reservation boundary on State Highway 264.
Hearings set on Steiger bill
Congress is still considering passing Arizona Rep. Sam Steiger’s bill, which purports to solve the Navajo-Hopi land dispute by giving each tribe half of the 1.8 million acres in dispute. Hearings are scheduled in April.
As we reported a couple of weeks ago, leaders of the two tribes met for the first time to try to come to a solution each could live with. But it is obvious by now to everyone that they are so far apart that the chances of them coming to an agreement are slim to none.
For the first time, details have been released as to what would happen if the Steiger bill is passed by Congress in its present form.
First off, it would require the relocation of 12,000 Navajos from land that would be turned over to the Hopis. Only about 100 Hopis sitio bisexual would have to be relocated.
The bill calls for the relocation of the Navajos to take place over 10 years with the relocation of 1,200 a year. The Hopis would be relocated in one year.
Along with the families, all of their livestock would also be relocated. Any livestock not removed would become property of the Hopi Tribe.
The bill calls for the Navajos to be relocated, for the most part, to other parts of the Navajo Reservation although Navajo officials have tried to get members of Congress to understand that all of the land is allocated and there is no area where families could be settled.
The bill says that if land on the reservation cannot be found, the federal government would buy land adjacent to the reservation and relocate the Navajo families and their livestock to these lands. Each family would be given a new house.
Any Navajo or Hopi who refused to move would be considered a trespasser and subject to arrest. They would also give up any federal benefit that would be available to all families that agreed to relocate.
The BIA would provide law enforcement in the disputed lands until all of the families have been relocated. After that each tribe would be in charge of law enforcement on their lands.