Associated Press

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Navajo Nation officials have called for all flags on the vast reservation be flown at half-staff to honor former tribal President Kelsey Begaye.

They said Begaye, who served as Navajo Nation president from 1999 to 2003, died of natural causes Friday in Flagstaff. He was 70.

Current Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that Begaye “was a person of great faith and that’s what he relied on throughout his life, especially during challenging times.”

Begaye was born on January 7, 1951, in Kaibeto, Arizona, and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969. He served four years as a radio operator while in Vietnam. He was Tódich’ii’nii and born for Tł’ízí łání.

Tribal officials said Begaye later became a substance abuse counselor in the mid-1970s though 1990s, helping many young people overcome drug and alcohol abuse.

“Honorable Kelsey Begaye touched so many lives through his work as a substance abuse counselor, Vietnam veteran, and a public servant. He was a very humble person who overcame adversities as a young man, turned to his faith in God, and dedicated so many years of his life to helping and serving others. He will be remembered as a loving, caring, and gracious person who devoted his life to his family, his faith, and his people,” Vice President Lizer said in a news release.

After serving two terms as the speaker of the tribal council, Begaye was elected the fifth president of the Navajo Nation in November 1998.

Nez and Lizer called for all flags on the Navajo Nation to be flown at half-staff starting Aug. 17 through Aug. 20 to honor the former Navajo Nation president. 

Begaye is survived by his wife, Marie, and five children. Their oldest son died in 2014.

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President is working with the family to stream the funeral service on Aug. 20, according to a news release. 

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