Although the ouster of former Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald has created "a crisis in the Navajo Nation," the political turmoil creates a good opportunity for government reform, the tribe's interim leader said.
Leonard Haskie, Interim Tribal Chairman of the Navajo Nation, which shares part of its northern border with Utah, spoke to University of Utah students Thursday as part of Native American Awareness Week.The Navajo Tribal Council placed MacDonald on administrative leave Feb. 17 after witnesses in a congressional investigation said he engaged in a coverup of allegations he received kickbacks and misused tribal money.
"These are very serious allegations," said Ernest Harry Begay, a tribal councilman joining Haskie at the U.
"Because of that, a majority of the Navajo Tribal Council . . . placed Peter MacDonald and (Vice Chairman) Johnny R. Thompson on administrative leave."
Haskie called MacDonald's removal from office, further affirmed Thursday when the U.S. Government recognized Haskie as the Navajo leader, a low point in Navajo history.
"We certainly have experienced one of the saddest crises in the Navajo Nation, it's unfortunate we have lived through this episode as we have," he said.
However, Haskie said "this is a good time for government reform without MacDonald" by using new leadership to "restore the integrity of the Navajo Nation and the credibility that has been hurt and damaged."
He told students that historically, Indian relationships with the federal government have been subject to the whims of Congress - which frequently changed to the disadvantage of tribal governments.
But with the demise of MacDonald, "we want to prove to the U.S. Congress that . . . we are strong and sovereign."