Promising Navajo leader ‘with so much potential’ dies young

Council Delegate Steven Begay thanks BIA Navajo Regional Director Sharon Pinto for her service in Window Rock, Ariz. on Aug. 16, 2018. (Photo by the Navajo Nation Council | Facebook)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

The Navajo Times said Steven Begay died of heart attack

Much of the Navajo community on social media described Steven Begay as “a very promising young leader” and a “brilliant man” with “so much potential.” The tribal council delegate passed on Oct. 4.

Navajo Nation Spokesman LoRenzo Bates said Begay’s death is undergoing an investigation and there will be no more information until it is completed.

When the news broke out, The Navajo Times reported that unconfirmed reports say he died of a heart attack.

The 43-year-old leader represented five different community chapters in New Mexico - Tohatchi, Naschitti, Mexican Springs, Coyote Canyon and Bahastl’a’a - and was sworn into office on April 13, 2017 after a special election. He was going to run for a second term.

Community members said it was “very rare now days” to have council delegates involved with the community. He just started organizing shoe games, a Navajo traditional game, and horse trail rides. Begay also traveled to the Chuska Mountains to check on the elders who own sheep camps.

In 2013, JT Willie, a local fashion designer, said Begay’s “energy and words are exactly everything I want to be when I enter my old age.” The leader spoke about how the language, culture and medicine was the secret to being Navajo holistically.

Bates and the tribal council expressed their condolences to Begay’s wife and two children in Naschitti, the same place where Begay lived and was from.

“On behalf of Council, I want to express our sincerest condolences to the family of Honorable Begay, and we send our prayers to them with great love and support during their time of need. Additionally, Council members are mourning the loss of our dearest friend and colleague, and we are still processing how we will move forward during this difficult time. We ask that the public please respect the privacy of the Begay family,” Bates said.

Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation released a separate statement about the passing of his colleague and suspended his presidential campaign efforts for four days after Begay’s death.

“He was a great leader and well known Hatałii across the Navajo Nation,” Nez said. “Our Diné way of life requires us to adhere to certain practices and in this way we honor and respect the late Honorable Steven Begay, his family, and his legacy. “

A public memorial service, “A Gathering, Remembering the Life of Honorable Steven Begay,” scheduled for Friday Oct. 12 at 10:00 a.m. at the Tohatchi High School Gymnasium in Tohatchi, New Mexico. The family asks that no photos or recordings occur at anytime on Friday. For more information, please contact Legislative District Assistant, Olin Kieyoomia at (505) 470-7341.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter@jourdanbb.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

What an awful sorrow for Mr. Begay's wife and children, and for all his family and no doubt many friends in the Navajo Nation.