Allegations of corruption against Navajo tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald during hearings this week in Washington by a special Senate committee investigating fraud came as no surprise to some tribe members.
"So what else is new?" asked Oliver Becenti, 26, of Sheep Springs, Ariz.The Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs is holding hearings to look into corruption and abuses in contracting among Indian tribes.
Johnny Donaldson, a Tse Bonito, N.M., contractor, said Friday he was never paid for $60,000 in home improvements to a house rented by MacDonald. Donaldson said the owner of the house, insurance agent Larry Ward of Phoenix, Ariz., promised to eventually sell him the house at below-market value.
Donaldson also said he later received a contract to do some work on MacDonald's tribal offices.
Contractors testified throughout the week that they gave MacDonald payments and gratuities in hopes they would be awarded projects on the reservation.
At tribal headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz., Richie Nez, MacDonald's chief of staff, said the administration "must categorically deny every allegation" and characterized the hearings as "destroying our government and maligning our tribal officials."
Nez said a delegation of 11 tribal officials will be in Washington on Monday when the hearings resume.
"The Navajo Nation has not been given an opportunity to rebut these malicious rumors, allegations and charges with true fact," a resolution passed by the advisory committee of the Tribal Council said.
"These hearings are taking a strong direction to subvert attention away from Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanagement and to direct negative attention to the Navajo Nation and its leadership for purposes of using it as a prime example of corruption so that Congress may pass laws that further erode tribal sovereignty," the tribe's statement said.
Elsie Plummer of Yah-Ta-Hey, N.M., said she believes the allegations are the fallout of politics and the struggle for power on the reservation.
"If I ran for chairman and I won, I would do those same things," she said.
Grace Smith of Twin Lakes said she never liked MacDonald. "I feel like he's hiding a lot of things," she said.
At the Fort Defiance, Ariz., chapter house, vice president Howard McKinley said the hearings haven't revealed anything new.