The White Man's Justice

If this is the way of democracy, that word most certainly should be spelled with a lower-case d.


Bruce Griffen is tall, slim and alert. He is a Flagstaff lawyer appointed to defend MacDonald. Griffen realizes how long the odds are against his client and himself.

For the government, this is a slam-dunk case. The bare bones of it are that MacDonald's followers stormed a tribal building and, when the police tried to stop them, beat the cops with sticks.

To stop the riot, the police fired on and killed two of MacDonald's people.

However, the whole situation reeks of a setup. Even though the tribal police knew that MacDonald's men were on the way, they stationed only one police car at the front of the building. They did not make a show of force that would have dissuaded the attack. Instead they set up a truck from which to film the entire attack. That video will be used in this case as evidence.

What jury will acquit after seeing the film?

And yet Griffen fights as hard as he knows how. He tells the jury: "When you look over at Peter MacDonald, I want you to see a Naa'taanii, a leader. I want you to see a man who has the right to the presumption of innocence."

He tells them about MacDonald's life. MacDonald, 63, was born on a goatherd's blanket. He studied to become a medicine man because that's what his grandfather had been.

He took the name "MacDonald" at boarding school because the teacher could not pronounce his Native American name and because the young boy continually sang the song "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."

At 15 he joined the United States Marine Corps and went to the South Pacific, where he was a member of the Navajo Code Talkers unit that was used to confound the Japanese.

MacDonald went to the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 1957 as an electrical engineer. He moved to Los Angeles and worked for Hughes Aircraft on the project that developed the space program. He was a junior engineer on the Apollo program.

"It was at this point," Griffen told the jury, "that Raymond Knockeye, the tribal chairman, invited Peter back to the reservation. MacDonald was director of management for six years and then, in 1970, was elected tribal chairman.

"He was elected for three consecutive terms, embracing 12 years, before being defeated in a close election. And then, after four years, he was reelected for a fourth term. He is the head of his country."

Griffen hesitated. Then he told the jury: "I'm nervous. This is the biggest courtroom I've ever been in. I'm flattered to be appointed to such a huge responsibility. I now regard Peter as my friend."

Griffen shook his head.

"This is a huge effort to prosecute MacDonald. It's a political persecution. He's charged with 18 counts of things that happened at the building and he wasn't even there.

"They charge him with giving speeches. He always gave speeches. What else do leaders do? He is not a pied piper of violence. . .only a leader."


The trial begins.

The first witness is the police officer who hid in the van and filmed the attack on the tribal finance center.

"Do you know Peter MacDonald?" he is asked.
"Yes."
"How is that?"
"At one time I was one of his bodyguards."

This will be a bitter trial, in which betrayal will play a large part. All of the witnesses against MacDonald are members of the tribe who either once admired him greatly or still do. We are left with one mystery. Why is this case being tried in federal court?

Only because it's the government's final, crunching move to destroy MacDonald. It's ugly. But not surprising.

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