Oral Histories

Merv Lawton


Merv Lawton

Q: Shortly thereafter that then they elected (? )

A: It was at that same time that the process was taking place of getting a County Council with the increased number.

Q: So how did it seem to be in the thick of politics? What do you remember about it?

A: Oh, very interesting! Very, very interesting! I don’t know whether I was successful or not. I look back on it and I wanted to be the middle-of-the-row man. I wanted to try to draw the two opposing camps together. I would support the Republicans on certain good ideas and I would support the Democrats on other good ideas but when I supported the Democrats, the Republicans got mad with me. When I supported the Republican point of view then the Democrats would get mad at me so I seemed to be getting in trouble with everybody. It was a good idea but it was not so easy.

Q: Well it sounds like you supported the idea no matter what the idea was.

A: I tried to support the best idea of any problems. I don’t know if I made more enemies than friends. Some people felt I was doing a good job and some people just don’t know. That’s perfectly normal in any politics I know.

Q: Any thoughts about returning or trying to do it again?

A: No, no, I wouldn’t do it again. I did my share.

Q: But now you’re sort of into agriculture?

A: Sort of, yeah, sheep. Because Sam had the idea of raising sheep, the Navajo Churro sheep. Now let’s go back a little bit in history.

The Spanish brought the Churro sheep from Spain when they came over here. They brought them over for food, meat, and also for their wool. The Navajo people were very interested in these sheep and they adopted these sheep because they had such lovely wool to enable them to do the spinning and weaving of their Navajo rugs and saddle blankets. So a lot of these sheep were, shall I say, adopted by the Navajos. I don’t know what the terms were, how they got them. They may have bought some, they may have been given some, I certainly think they probably stole some. But there were a lot of Navajo Churro sheep and families were looking after these sheep. The young kids, boys and girls, were being the shepherds, to look after the sheep in the field. The mothers or grandmothers would be the weavers and when what we call the “Big March” down to Bosco Redondo a lot of the sheep got lost. They either got left behind or they died on the trip. Later, when they were there at Bosco Redondo, there were quite a few sheep there in a very small area so there was overgrazing. Well, the government went in. I think it was the army that was actually the culprit. They went in and slaughtered these sheep because of the overgrazing so the Navajo Churro became an endangered species in the country. Families that had had sheep before didn’t have them anymore. Sam’s idea, which I agreed with, was that we would get Navajo Churro sheep, raise them, find families where the grandmothers and mothers were weavers and wanted sheep again, and we would give them sheep. We would give them maybe one ram and four or five ewes so that they could get going again. The kids could go back to their culture of looking after sheep as opposed to some of the ideas of the government of having them…one was beekeeping, another was fish farms. There’s very little water on the reservation and I don’t know how they were going to have a fish farm! But we felt that getting back to their old cultural ways of the kids looking after the sheep and the mothers and the grandmothers getting back into weaving…

Q: Who pays you for the sheep? Does it come out of your pocketbook?

A: Yeah, we will give to the Navajo… we do recover a bit of money for meat, but the wool, we give them.

Q: Was the RC&D involved in this? (Resource Conservation and Development)

A: The RC&D is, you know, shall I say, supportive of us. It’s one of the things that the RC&D is involved in.

Q: So they give you some funds?

A: No, they don’t give us any funds. They haven’t got that money.

Q: Are you satisfied here? Would you rather be in South Africa or Canada?

A: South Africa still has political problems. And people are not happy in South Africa, the white people. It’s a multicultural place now that apartheid is no longer in force in the existing government. Prior to them getting into power they were making promises to the rest of the Natives, the black people, that if they got elected then the black people would be equal to the white. They would have nice homes to live in. They would get into high positions in industry. And that never really turned out. It wasn’t really practical because they didn’t have the training for that. But they never got what had been promised to them. There’s been a lot of almost fighting taking place because they are not getting what was promised to them. It wasn’t promised by the white people, the Europeans, the Dutch and the English but by their own leaders. And jobs are hard to get for the black people. There was a degree of black people from the countries around South Africa coming into South Africa but when the new government came in, control dropped away, so tremendous numbers of black people came into South Africa looking for jobs. They basically flooded the market. So they don’t have anything. They don’t have jobs therefore they don’t have money so what do they do? They steal. On my last trip to South Africa we went through Johannesburg and to see all the homes around Johannesburg. Ten foot high brick walls and electrified fencing on top of the walls or razor barb wire to prevent people getting in. There’s always someone poorer than you and he will try to steal from the man who’s got something. Even Mandela’s house was protected in that way in Johannesburg.

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