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Reservation Melee Leaves Two Dead, Nine Wounded

July 21, 1989

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) _ Hundreds of supporters of an ousted Navajo Indian chairman clashed with police and took over a tribal building in a melee that left two men dead and nine wounded, witnesses and officials said.

Supporters of suspended tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald occupied the tribe’s business and finance building for five hours late Thursday after a pro-MacDonald rally that turned violent, authorities said.

Tribal officials said the dead men were shot by tribal police defending their fellow officers.

MacDonald disagreed vehemently in a statement issued today.

The tribal police, he said, ″randomly opened fire on Navajo civilians who assembled to protest their rights to redress the reasons why the interim government was established.″ The ousted chairman said he was ″shocked, appalled and angered″ by the police actions.

Tribal police, federal agents and state police sealed off the area today. In Albuquerque, N.M., U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs area director Sid Mills said he had dispatched as many agents as available to the reservation.

A federal Bureau of Indian Affairs tactical team was working with tribal police and FBI agents were sent to the remote reservation, said Steve Goldstein, a spokesman for Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. in Washington.

The violence in the tribal capital near the Arizona-New Mexico line was the latest episode in the struggle for power on the Navajo Reservation. With 200,000 members the Navajos are the nation’s largest Indian tribe.

The two victims, both MacDonald supporters, were Arnold Begay and a man identified as either Jimmy Dixon or James Dickson. Both men were shot, said Rosalyn Curtis, spokeswoman for the Indian Health Hospital in nearby Fort Defiance.

Four of the other 10 hospitalized suffered gunshot wounds, and the others were treated for cuts and other injuries, Ms. Curtis said.

According to Goldstein, tribal Police Chief George John was in Washington and pro-MacDonald forces were trying to reinstate former Police Chief Wilbur Kellogg.

In January, MacDonald was accused during U.S. Senate hearings of accepting kickbacks and personally sharing in the $7.2 million profit realized by non- Indian businessmen who sold the tribe a ranch for $33.4 million in July 1987. He was placed on administrative leave by the Tribal Council on Feb. 13.

After a rally at the home of a MacDonald booster about a mile from the government buildings, a throng of 300 members of the MacDonald-backing Pro- Dineh Voters group and others marched or drove early Thursday evening to the seat of government. ″Dineh″ is a Navajo word meaning ″the people.″

Witnesses said the demonstration got out of hand when members of the crowd attacked Lt. Daniel Hawkins, a Navajo police official who led the May 24 sweep of the tribe’s administration building that ended with MacDonald and his appointees evicted from offices they had refused to leave.

Hawkins was beaten and kicked by assailants wielding 4-foot wooden clubs who ″handcuffed him and left him lying there,″ said tribal spokesman Duane Beyal. He said the crowd then went after a second officer, taking his revolver while beating and handcuffing him.

Onlookers said Dixon took Hawkins’ gun and shot tribal police Sgt. Daniel Lee. According to varying accounts, Lee either returned the fire, killing Dixon, or Dixon was gunned down by other officers.

Beyal said Begay was shot fatally by an unidentified officer who saw Begay with a club about to hit another officer from behind.

Witnesses said the crowd turned its clubs on the doors of the tribe’s financial services building to break in.

The situation remained in flux for about five hours, with an estimated 100 MacDonald supporters in the building and about 150 supporters of interim Chairman Leonard Haskie on a ridge overlooking the building.

Tribal police left the scene about 8:15 p.m., although members of opposing factions were still facing off and armed with clubs and chains, witnesses said. The building’s occupants finally left about 11 p.m., and police moved in to cordon off the site.

Officials said the business and finance building and another building were closed at noon Thursday after there were threats of an attack.

MacDonald’s whereabouts could not be determined Thursday night. Earlier in the day, he issued an executive order instructing ousted Kellogg to reassume the office of police chief and to ″restore law and order″ on the reservation.

Update hourly