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Benefit at Starlight Fails to Drum Up Funds for Navajos

Times Staff Writer

Not even a name like Drums Across America and a cause as American as they come--the plight of Navajo Indians--could lure enough people to fork out $25 for a benefit concert Sunday at a modest Burbank amphitheater. Despite a surprise appearance by superstar Stevie Wonder, which generated last-minute telephoned donations, only a quarter of the 4,000 seats were filled.

The all-day concert at the Starlight Amphitheatre, billed as a big fund-raiser to aid several hundred Navajo Indians who are fighting to stay on land near Big Mountain, Ariz., wound up being a big money loser instead.

Not one cent of ticket sales will go toward the Indians’ legal defense fund, said Bob Grad, concert producer.

“No money was raised,” Grad said. “All the ticket sales are going to pay the bills. But money is not the issue here. Our goal was to raise the awareness of the American people about the plight of the Indians.”

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By late afternoon, fewer than 800 of the $25 and $20 tickets had been taken in at the gate. But even then, organizers were unsure how many were paid tickets because more than 2,000 had been given away in the wake of lagging sales last week. On Friday, fewer than 100 tickets had been sold, Grad said.

Although Grad did not know Sunday how much money was made, it will not be enough to cover the $110,000 in production costs.

But, Grad said, media coverage of the event was enough to satisfy his goal of “consciousness raising.”

“My idea from the start was to have a concert and see what happens,” Grad said. “I’m pleased with the turnout, and a lot more people are aware of the situation now.”

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The concert was to have benefited hundreds of Navajos who are being forced by the United States government from the Big Mountain Reservation, land the Navajo tribe has occupied for generations.

By decree of the courts and Congress, the largest forced relocation since Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II was ordered in 1974 to end a territorial dispute between the Navajos and the nearby Hopi tribe.

By July 6, the several hundred Navajos who remain on the reservation must move. The relocation of 12,000 Navajos on land that now belongs to the Hopi tribe began in 1977.

The concert was supposed to raise money for the Big Mountain Legal Defense/Offense Committee, which has been waging a legal and public relations battle to stop the relocation.

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World Concerts for Humanity, the nonprofit organization that staged the concert, had hoped to attract 4,000 people to the Starlight Amphitheatre and raise $135,000 for the legal fund.

Concert organizers estimated Sunday evening that 1,100 people attended. The concert, scheduled to last until 9:30 p.m., featured Bonnie Bramlett and Friends, Ritchie Havens, Rita Coolidge and an Indian band called Redbone. Singer Janis Ian and comedian Rich Little canceled at the last minute, Grad said.

Publicity Valued

A representative with the Big Mountain support group in Los Angeles was disappointed with the low turnout but said money was secondary to the publicity.

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“Life is important to our people. Religion is important to our people. We do not want to leave our land. We want to stop the relocation,” said Dranick Benally, 36, of Bell, a Navajo who has family living on the reservation. “I wish more would have been here, but maybe people will at least know what is happening.”

Navajo elder Jennie T. Allen, 68, who moved from the reservation in December, said: “I had 68 sheep, 200 cows, 15 horses, but because of the relocation they are all gone now. My children left because they had no life left on the reservation. Our spirituality has been tampered with.”

Allen has lived with her daughters in Los Angeles since December, according to Lenora Hill, who interpreted for her. Allen said her son died in an alcohol-related accident shortly after moving from the reservation.

Despite statements from concert organizers that publicity was the most important aspect of the concert, several concert-goers were miffed that their ticket money would go to production costs instead of to the Indians.

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“They should have told us that the money wasn’t going to go toward the cause,” said Renee Cambaliza, 32, of Tujunga, who bought a $20 ticket. “I was expecting more people. I would be real disappointed if I were the producer and looked up at this little crowd.”

“How sad,” one woman said to another as she took a seat. “Where are all the people?”


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