When I moved to Utah about 20 years ago, there was a marina on the San Juan River. It was a joint economic development project by the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service, but it seemed troubled by poor management.
I never gave it much thought until recently when I picked up Floating Hogans in Monument Valley (Vishnu Temple Press, 2007), written by Wanda Eilts.
Wanda and Terry Eilts were the managers of the San Juan Marina. They arrived in the spring of 1987 as employees of Utah Navajo Industries, the contractor selected by the Navajo Nation to operate the marina.
Like any start-up business, there were unforeseen difficulties to overcome, although the author claims that faulty construction of everything from docks to sanitation systems compounded the trouble.
But they hired and trained a hard-working and fun-loving group of Navajo people whose accomplishments and dedication off-set the physical and logistic hardships.
Revenues were significantly above projections, clients were happy, and the future looked bright.
In the meantime, the National Park Service and Navajo Nation struggled to fulfill commitments of the contract under which the marina operated. UNI refused to submit the required financial statements, vendors weren’t paid, mandated sanitation systems were not installed, and Mr. K, the UNI president, took yet another trip abroad.
UNI ordered the layoff of a large number of the employees, slashed the operating budget, and demanded a reduction in advertising expenses. It made no sense to the author, whose husband spent family funds to ready the marina for the 1988 season.
It also made no sense to the employees, who worked with the local tribal Chapter Houses to seek help from their tribal headquarters at Window Rock. Lawyers on all sides held meetings, but nothing was resolved and on May 18, 1988 Mr. K accused Terry and Wanda Eilts of conspiring against him; they were fired.
During August, 1989 a huge wall of water rolled down the San Juan River. When it hit the marina it silted in the bay, took out the docks, and wrecked the boats. It was the death knell for the marina, which has not been rebuilt.
Many years later, Wanda and Terry returned to visit their Navajo friends in the Monument Valley area, and found encouragement to tell the story of the San Juan Marina.
The book, written in a diary-like manner, is a personal expression of the time she spent at the marina. She relives the joy of working with the Navajo employees and their families, celebrates the beauty and promise of the land, and respectfully shares her adoption into a Navajo clan.
The narrative also transmits her puzzlement over UNI’s persistent claims that no money was being made at the marina and conveys her heartbreak over the company’s unfair treatment of loyal employees.
Careful to exonerate her employees, husband, and self from any wrong-doing in the sordid disaster, the author lays the blame on greed within UNI and the upper echelon of the Navajo Nation.