Former Navajo Nation vice president dies at 87

Pauly Denetclaw

Edward T. Begay, the former vice president of the Navajo Nation and chairman of the Navajo Nation Council, died Sunday, according to his family. He was 87 years old.

He moved to Albuquerque surrounded by members of his family.

“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our condolences and prayers to the family of the Honorable Begay. We also thank his loved ones for sharing his life with us and for all of their family’s contributions to our Navajo people. He was a very loving and caring person who always put people first. We pray that his family will be comforted to know that he is with God and watching over them now,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.

The Navajo Nation Council began Monday’s special session with a minute of silence.

“Yesterday we lost one of our greatest post-modern leaders,” Seth Damon, president of the Navajo Nation Council, said during Monday’s special session. “We just want to send our condolences to the family. At this time, we ask to recognize not only what he did in his past, but what he laid the groundwork for. The Zah-Begay administration, at the start of the 1980s, creating the permanent trust fund, creating title 26 and having forbearance to lay the foundation for better education in the Navajo Nation.

Begay was Tódích’íi’nii and born for Tl’ogi, his maternal grandfather was Táchii’nii and his paternal grandfather was Kinyaa’áanii. He was from the Eastern Agency on the Navajo Nation in a place now called Superman Canyon. Begay married his wife Cecilia Damon in 1961. The high school sweethearts were married for three decades before Damon passed away in 1991. They had two daughters, Sharlene Begay-Platero and Sandra Begay.

Begay began his political career representing the communities of Church Rock and Breadsprings from 1971 to 1983 on the Council of the Navajo Nation. As a council delegate, he chaired several committees, including the advisory, education, economic development and planning, budget and finance, and federal restructuring task force committees.

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A year later, in 1984, Peterson Zah and Begay became president and vice president of the Navajo Nation.

In his new position, Begay was able to see the issues affecting the Navajo people from a national perspective. He served as head of legislative power at key times in tribal government and during a tumultuous period in the history of Navajo government. As vice president from 1983 to 1987, Begay worked closely with the board to renegotiate mining, coal, oil and gas leases with major energy companies. Under the Zah-Begay administration, the Navajo Nation established the Permanent Trust Fund to provide a source of income for future generations. This made law that the nation had to budget 12% of all projected revenue to go into the permanent trust fund each year.

Title 26, enacted in 1998, is the Navajo Nation Local Governance Act that “recognizes local governance. Through the passage of this law, the Council of the Navajo Nation delegates to the chapters governmental authority with respect to local affairs consistent with Navajo law, including customs and traditions…The enactment of the Law on the local governance allows chapters to make decisions about local affairs,” according to the Navajo. National code.

Begay was elected president of the 88-member 19th and 20th councils in 1999 and served two terms, and worked to implement the first gaming pact with New Mexico and Arizona. During his tenure as president, the Council of the Navajo Nation incorporated traditional, natural, and customary laws into its system of government.

On Sunday, Begay’s family said, “Ed T. was a loving husband, caring father and loving grandfather, but to many he was Cheii. He will be missed at our dinner table, sitting next to us in church and listening to his stories of the journeys his life has taken him. We are immensely proud of his service to the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico and its original tribal communities.

Vice President Myron Lizer also offered his condolences, saying, “My wife, Dottie, and I offer our thoughts and condolences to Mr. Begay’s family. We will always remember and cherish his legacy and all that he gave of himself to improve the lives of many people. You are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Begay’s funeral is pending.

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The AP contributed to this report.

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