Ex-Navajo President Honored in Funeral Procession, Reception
LOW MOUNTAIN, Ariz. (AP) — Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah was honored Saturday with a funeral procession that stretched for 100 miles (160 kilometers) from western New Mexico To install eastern arizona.
People lined roads on the reservation to say their final farewells to a monumental leader who made education, family, culture and Navajo language the hallmarks of his life. He fought tirelessly to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans. “He led with compassion and a crystal-clear vision of what is right for the people first,” said Robert Joe, who served as the master of ceremonies at a public reception Saturday afternoon. was right and for the interest of the people.
Zah died late Tuesday in Fort Defiance, Arizona, surrounded by his family and after a lengthy illness. He was 85.
Zah was buried in a private service at his family’s cemetery in Low Mountain, Arizona, where he was born.
The procession passed through several Navajo communities, with people holding their hands to their hearts and displaying signs that declared Zah would be missed. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority hoisted flags from utility trucks along the route.
Zah was the first president elected on the Navajo Nation—the largest tribal reservation in the US—in 1990 after the government was restructured into three branches to prevent power from being concentrated in the chairman’s office. At the time, the tribe was reeling from a deadly riot incited by Zah’s political rival, former Chairman Peter MacDonald, a year earlier.
Zah, who also served a term as tribal chairman, vowed to rebuild the Navajo Nation. Under his leadership, the tribe established a now multi-billion-dollar permanent fund after winning a court battle that found the tribe had authority to tax companies that extracted minerals from the vast reservation.
“President Zah never lost sight of his purpose: to stand up for the dignity and respect of the Navajo people,” President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden wrote in a letter to Zah’s family Saturday.
Sometimes referred to as the Native American Robert Kennedy, Zah was known for his charisma, ideas and ability to get things done, including lobbying federal officials to ensure Native Americans could use peyote as a religious sacrament.
Zah also worked to ensure Native Americans were reflected in federal environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
He was well-known for his low-key but stern style of leadership, driving around in a battered, white 1950s International pickup that was on display outside at the public reception Saturday.
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