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Pauly Denetclaw

Edward T. Begay, the former vice-chairman of the Navajo Nation and speaker for the Navajo Nation Council, died Sunday, according to his family. He was 87.

He passed in Albuquerque surrounded by family members.

“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our condolences and prayers to Honorable Begay’s family. 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 the people first. We pray that his family takes comfort in knowing that he is with God and watching over them now,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The Navajo Nation Council started Monday’s special session with a moment of silence.

“Yesterday, we did lose one of our greatest post-modern leaders,” Seth Damon, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, said during Monday’s special session. “We just want to send our condolences out to the family. At this time, we ask to recognize not only what he’s done in his past but what he laid the framework for. The Zah-Begay administration, in the early 80s, creating the permanent trust fund, creating Title 26, and having the forbearance to lay the groundwork for better education across 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 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 in 1991. They had two daughters, Sharlene Begay-Platero and Sandra Begay.

Begay started his political career representing the communities of Church Rock and Breadsprings from 1971 to 1983 on the Navajo Nation Council. While serving as a council delegate, he chaired several committees including the Advisory, Education, Economic Development and Planning, Budget and Finance, and the Federal Restructuring Task Force committees.

One year later, in 1984, Peterson Zah and Begay became Navajo Nation chairman and vice-chairman.

In his new position, Begay was able to see issues impacting the Navajo people from a national perspective. He was head of the legislative branch during some key moments in tribal government and during a tumultuous time in the history of the Navajo government. As vice-chairman from 1983-87, Begay worked closely with the council to renegotiate mineral, coal, oil, and gas leases with major energy companies. Under the Zah-Begay administration, the Navajo Nation created the Permanent Trust fund to provide a source of income for future generations. This made it law that the nation had to budget 12 percent of any and all projected income to go into the Permanent Trust Fund annually.

Title 26, enacted in 1998, is the Navajo Nation Local Governance Act that “recognizes local governance. Through adoption of this Act, the Navajo Nation Council delegates to chapters governmental authority with respect to local matters consistent with Navajo law, including customs and traditions… Enactment of the Local Governance Act allows Chapters to make decisions over local matters,” according to the Navajo Nation Code.

Begay was elected speaker of the 19th and 20th, 88-member council in 1999 and served two terms, and worked to get the first gambling compact with New Mexico and Arizona in place. During his tenure as speaker, the Navajo Nation Council incorporated traditional, natural, and customary laws into its government system.

On Sunday, Begay’s family stated, “Ed T. was a loving husband, caring father, and gracious grandfather, but to many, he was Cheii. We will miss him at our dinner table, sitting next to us in church, and listening to his stories of the journeys his life has taken him on. We are extremely proud of his service to the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico, and his tribal home communities.”

Vice President Myron Lizer also offered condolences, stating, “My wife, Dottie, and I offer our thoughts and condolences for 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. You are in our thoughts and prayers.”

The funeral services for Begay are pending.

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The AP contributed to this reporting.