Navajos and Whites worlds apart in Page
By Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 7, 2003
PAGE - As the all-Navajo work crew at his burger joint on Lake Powell Boulevard
busily tends to customers, Richard Kidman wonders aloud why he has become the
focal point in a national discussion about the use of Native American language
in the workplace.
Why, after he flew all the way to New York City recently, the folks at the
Donahue show would place the caption "Angry White Male" under his name. Will
Bill O'Reilly do the same on Kidman's upcoming Fox network appearance? What
about the planned profile in Fortune magazine?
All he did, Kidman said, was put up a sign, with wording from the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission's own Web site, warning his employees to check
the Navajo language at the door after female workers complained about male
co-workers sexually harassing them in Navajo.
He should have fired them for sexual harassment, Kidman says now.
Instead, he's making the rounds on the talk-show circuit to help raise money to
take on the EEOC, which filed suit against his R.D.'s Drive-In late last year,
the first such federal lawsuit for forbidding Native Americans from speaking
their own language on the job.
No action on the lawsuit is expected until the fall, said David Selden, Kidman's
But the fallout and attention from the lawsuit are making this isolated,
high-mesa town of nearly 7,000, which borders both the nation's longest
lakeshore and largest Indian reservation, more than a little uneasy.
Page city officials say they are doing all they can to make their city
List of complaints
Navajos have a litany of complaints about their treatment:
• Page has no Navajo police officers on its 20-member force despite Native
Americans composing almost three-quarters of its cases.
And when Mike Anderson, a local Navajo community leader with an extensive law
enforcement background, applied for the vacant police chief position recently,
he wasn't among the finalists. A White man from western Texas was hired.
• No Navajo has ever been elected or appointed to Page's City Council.
• The local high school is 70 percent Navajo but only about 10 percent of its
When the district recently hired a White man as administrator for a Navajo
cultural enrichment program at the high school, former Navajo President Kelsey
Begaye threatened a lawsuit. He has not filed one.
• Navajos working within the school district say school officials tried to keep
transportation workers from speaking Navajo among themselves until Begaye came
to town last year for a forum to discuss grievances.
They say that Navajo students are encouraged to enroll at Page's Lake View
Elementary School, while Whites are directed to Desert View Elementary School.
The school district has an open enrollment policy.
Then, there are the concerns of Navajos living in the nearby LeChee Chapter of
the Navajo Nation.
They complain about a senior citizens center in Page they say makes them feel
unwelcome. And, they say, if a Navajo's vehicle breaks down outside town, a tow
truck won't answer the call.
"Our people who drink in town reflect badly on us," said Irene Whitekiller,
president of the LeChee Chapter. "But it's just a few people. Navajos spend a
lot of dollars here, and there shouldn't be a rush to judgment about us."
Effort to improve
Page Mayor Dean Slavens said he has been working hard to improve relations
between Whites and Native Americans. He said he was especially concerned about
no Navajo police officers on Page's police force.
"I've offended a few people how hard I've pushed (for that to change)," he said.
Dennis Veal, Page High School's principal, also said the school system has been
in the vanguard of change, as evidenced by its push for the more than $1 million
Navajo cultural program.
He said the district also plans job fairs for Native American teacher
candidates. Seven of Page's 67 high school teachers are Native American, Veal
Wally Brown, a longtime Navajo educator and activist, said the school
district rejected his proposal to link the educational curriculum with his local
Navajo Village Cultural Center, which teaches the culture by using hogans, a
sweat lodge, a bread oven and ramada and trading post replica.
"I don't get that contract. I apply for City Council openings, and they fill
those with White people, too. It's all just very frustrating," Brown said.
He also said that Navajos feel unwelcome at the Page senior citizens center and
that few go there because of it.
"No one pays any attention to you when you go in. They don't even come over and
say hello," Brown said.
Vicki Myers, director of the senior citizens center, said she normally serves
two Navajos out of the meals prepared for 80 people daily.
"A lot of them will come to pick up free bread, but not during the lunch hour,"
Myers said. "This isn't a prejudice thing, though. They go to the seniors center
at the LeChee Chapter House to eat."
As for the complaint about tow trucks being reluctant to answer the calls of
Navajos, Gary Watson, owner of Transport Towing in Page, said he's eager for all
of the business he can get "but there have been problems like that with other
tow truck operators in the past."
Back at R.D.'s, Kidman acknowledged that his Navajo business has declined
considerably since the EEOC lawsuit was filed. He is trying to raise $45,000 for
his legal fight so Arlington, Va.-based Pro-English, an English-only group, will
contribute the same amount.
"The last place I'm going to go is a business that won't let me speak my own
language after being forced to go to a boarding school that wouldn't let me
speak Navajo or braid my hair in the traditional way," Whitekiller said.
But Kidman's 16 Navajo employees are fiercely loyal.
"This whole thing is ridiculous," said Rolanda Redhair, a longtime R.D.'s
employee. "The irony of this is that none of us working here now even speak
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8057.