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Albert Hale, second Navajo Nation president, dies at 70 after battle with COVID-19

Jamie Landers
Arizona Republic
Albert Hale

Former Navajo Nation President Albert Hale died Tuesday after a battle with COVID-19. He was 70. 

Hale's death was first confirmed in a press release from the Navajo Nation Council on Tuesday afternoon.  

"As a former president of the Navajo Nation, he is remembered for his service and dedication to the Navajo People, which continued beyond the borders of the Nation when he was called to represent our district in the Arizona Legislature," Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon said in the release. 

Hale's daughter, April, said Hale tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 7. He managed mild symptoms at home until he was hospitalized on Jan. 11. 

"He was hospitalized for almost four weeks and there were some really good days when his oxygen levels were doing really well, and then there were some really bad days when the stress on his body was really showing," April told The Arizona Republic.

Hale was put on a ventilator on Jan. 27 and, after a series of complications caused by the virus, April said he died on his own, "peacefully." 

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday.

“Arizona is saddened by the loss of respected Navajo leader and former state legislator Albert Hale,” Ducey said in a statement. "My prayers and deepest condolences go to Hale's family, loved ones and community, and I’ve ordered flags be lowered to half-staff in honor of his life and service.”

In addition, all flags on the Navajo Nation will be flown at half-staff from Wednesday through Saturday, according to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

"We join our Navajo people in grieving for the loss of our great leader, a loving family man, and my brother," Nez said in a release on Tuesday afternoon. "He stood strong on many issues and left the world a better place than he found it. First Lady Phefelia Nez and I pray that his family will take comfort in knowing that he is now with our Creator at this time."

In variety of roles, Hale spent his life serving tribe, Arizona 

Hale, born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, was the second president of the Navajo Nation from 1995 to 1998. Thomas Atcitty, a long-term state representative who served under Hale as vice president, died from natural causes on Oct. 11, 2020, at age 86. 

Prior to his role as president, Hale served as assistant attorney general for the Navajo Nation, special counsel to the Navajo Nation Council and as a judge pro tempore in the Laguna Tribal Court system.

According to the council's release, he was also known for his term as chair of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission at the time of the negotiation of the San Juan River Basin Water Right Settlement Agreement, which was ratified by Congress after it was signed in 2005.

In 2004, Hale was appointed to serve the remaining term of an Arizona Senate seat by former Gov. Janet Napolitano and served until 2011. From 2011 to 2017, he served in the Arizona House of Representatives.

"We recognize his positive contributions to the development of numerous initiatives that have advanced the causes of Navajo People both at home and abroad," Damon said. 

April Hale said while her father was also an "incredible person, a wonderful father and an amazing husband," she believes he was a "leader unlike any other."

"He had a presence to him that was captivating," April said. "He was a very traditional man who believed in our Navajo ways, consulted our people regularly and went back to the Navajo teachings for guidance no matter what. That's what made him a great leader — he was rooted in our tradition."

When he wasn't using his "commanding charm" in the office, April said Hale had a "silly sense of humor and could make people laugh for days on end." 

"Oh, and he loved — and I mean loved — to play golf," she said. "Everyone wanted my dad on their team." 

Some years plagued by controversy 

Hale resigned as president on Feb. 19, 1998, to avoid prosecution on charges that he misused tribal funds.

While insisting he had done nothing wrong, Hale stepped down in exchange for a promise from the tribe's special prosecutor, Fred Chris Smith, that he would not file charges against him.

"I resign to spare my family, the people and the nation that I love — to spare them the agony that I personally know due to the 1989 turmoil," Hale said in a statement, referring to a deadly 1989 riot between police and supporters of former President Peter MacDonald, The Republic reported at the time. 

Hale was also engaged in a public feud with the editor of the tribe's weekly newspaper, the Navajo Times. It started in 1996, when the paper published an interview with Hale's wife about his affair with his former press aide.

Reach the reporter Jamie Landers at jamie.landers@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamielandersx.