Former Navajo Chairman and President Peterson Zah dies at 85
Former Navajo President Peterson Zah died Tuesday in Fort Defiance, Arizona, after a lengthy illness. He was 85.
Zah served as chairman of the Navajo Nation Council in the 1980s before he was elected the first president for the Navajo Nation in 1990 when the government was restructured into three branches.
He vowed to rebuild the tribe, and to support family and education, after he took office. Zah guided his tribe through a politically turbulent era and worked hard to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans.
In his later years, Zah became the Native American liaison for the president of Arizona State University, a post he held for 15 years where he helped increase the number of Native students enrolled.
State Rep. Wonda Johnson (D-McKinley & San Juan) remembers how loving Zah was and discovering that they were from the same Navajo clans.
"He called me his daughter, acknowledged me as his daughter and from then on we had a relationship," said Johnson. "And he guided and mentored me."
Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) admired Zah’s leadership qualities.
"Any tribal leader, when they can speak with eloquence, when they can speak with grace, when they can speak from the heart and utilize their core values in projecting that in terms of where they come from, and how they can talk about any situation, but yet go back and use those core values from where they come from, is powerful," he said.
Lente is thankful that he and future Native leaders have that role model.
"I want to be able to somehow be able to replicate that ability to be able to be an effective leader," he said. "Yet be humble enough to know that he can come back to his community and he's still a leader within his own community."
Despite his tremendous success, Zah never claimed to be an extraordinary Navajo, just a Navajo with extraordinary experiences.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.