PHOENIX -- Navajos on both sides of a decade-long internecine political war agree that it would be best for the nation's largest Indian tribe if the Peter MacDonald era were behind them.2
Daniel Peaches, who supports the embattled MacDonald, convicted in October of bribery and suspended as tribal chairman, believes the Navajo Nation should move on.
"I, for one, think he has run his course," said Peaches, a Republican and former Arizona state legislator who works for the ethics committee of the tribe's legislative council.
Continued infighting, said Peaches, has been costly. "We have not established strong sovereignty over water rights and other resources," Peaches said. "We have not done as well as we should in obtaining Colorado River water. Nobody has had the time. . . . The tribe would have gone far if not for this dispute."
State Rep. Benjamin Hanley (D) hails newly elected Navajo chairman Peterson Zah, MacDonald's longtime nemesis, as the man who "can lead the tribe out of the confusion and chaos."
"Peterson Zah can get us back on the track," said Hanley, who serves as attorney for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
But some who oppose MacDonald, now in the midst of a second trial, this time on charges that he demanded kickbacks to clear the way for the tribe's purchase of a 491,000-acre Arizona ranch, are reluctant to publicly criticize him. "He still has a lot of political support," said one Navajo who asked not to be named. "I could see him running again."
MacDonald was convicted Oct. 17 in tribal court on 41 counts of accepting bribes and kickbacks from businesses operating on the 25,000 square mile reservation. He was sentenced to nearly six years in tribal jail, fined $11,000 and ordered to perform 340 days of labor. His son, Peter "Rocky" MacDonald Jr., was convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 18 months in jail, one year of labor and fined $2,500.
Both are out of jail to prepare their defense for a trial on charges of conspiracy in connection with the sale of the Big Boquillas Ranch to the tribe in February 1987. Prosecutors allege the senior MacDonald negotiated the deal in which the tribe bought the ranch for $33.4 million after a Phoenix-based group had paid $26.5 million for it earlier in the day.
The Senate investigated and found business people who said they conspired with the senior MacDonald to split millions of dollars in tribal funds. MacDonald's son testified at the Senate hearing that he served as a middleman for his father whenever his father wanted cash from the businessmen.
Bob Rohstein, special prosecutor for the tribe, charged at the opening of the conspiracy trial last week that the senior MacDonald wanted the tribe to pay the inflated price "so he and others involved in the conspiracy could divide the profits."
After the Boquillas Ranch trial, the senior MacDonald and his vice chairman, Johnny R. Thompson, face charges of violating election laws stemming from the tribe's 1986 election.
MacDonald and Zah had faced off twice before, with Zah upsetting MacDonald in 1982, ending MacDonald's 10-year reign, and losing to MacDonald in 1986 by a 1 percent of the vote.
They would have tangled again this year, but after MacDonald's bribery-kickback conviction, a tribal judge ordered MacDonald off the ballot.
Zah, who served as regional director of the Save the Children Foundation in Albuquerque during his hiatus from politics, was elected chairman last month with 46 percent of the vote.
Interim chairman Leonard Haskic, who earned a spot on the ballot after MacDonald was bumped, got 33 percent of the vote, and George Lee, MacDonald's handpicked running mate, polled 21 percent.
Zah, who will take control of the 210,000-member tribe Jan. 15, views his role as trying to heal the wounds of competing tribal factions.
Peaches said the tribe has reached a turning point. "I see the tribe is kind of at the end of the road, as far as Peter MacDonald and Zah are concerned. Yes, both of them. It's time to look beyond them."
He said there were several candidates in the August primary election who were as capable as MacDonald or Zah but who do not have a political base. "The time is here to reassess how long we stay with Zah and MacDonald," he said. "It is time to go forward. Time to leave this whole thing behind."