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The first department of government set up in the United States was to deal with Indian affairs. Two centuries later the plight of native Americans calls for new priority attention. As a result of recession and federal budget cuts, it is reported, the Navajos face what they call ''disaster.'' And they constitute the nation's biggest tribe.

Here is a test for private enterprise to heed the administration's call for private solutions to public problems -- and a test of its ''safety net'' for the needy until private solutions take hold.

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