First woman judge for Navajo courts remembered

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Marie Roanhorse Neswood

FARMINGTON — The first woman to serve as a judge in the Navajo Nation court system has died.

Marie Roanhorse Neswood, 85, died on Sunday, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch.

Neswood, who lived in St. Michaels, Arizona, was the first woman confirmed as a judge by the tribal council and served from 1976 to 1989, according to the release.

Robyn Neswood-Etsitty remembered her paternal grandmother in a telephone interview today.

Neswood-Etsitty said her grandparents were living in the Farmington area when a family friend told her grandmother about the tribe seeking community leaders to serve as judges.

Neswood applied for a position and was appointed to serve in the Crownpoint District Court, her granddaughter said.

As part of Neswood's legal training, she completed courses at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada and she was a member of the 1971 class for the Pre-Law Summer Institute for American Indians and Alaska Natives, a program administered by the American Indian Law Center Inc. in Albuquerque.

During Neswood's 13-year tenure, she served as acting chief justice and wrote several court opinions, Neswood-Etsitty said.

"She was so witty. She had a knack for the legal understanding," Neswood-Etsitty said, adding she remembers visiting her grandmother's office inside the court building.

The Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker remembered Neswood for her service as a tribal council delegate for St. Michaels Chapter from 1991 to 1995.

"Honorable Marie Neswood represented her community and the entire Navajo Nation with great dignity and pride throughout her lifetime," Speaker LoRenzo Bates said in a release Wednesday from his office.

"Her honorable service will always be remembered and cherished. To her family, we offer our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," he said.

Neswood was from Crystal and graduated from St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels, according to the judicial branch release.

She married Nelson Neswood and they had eight children, the release states.

The release states a rosary will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday at St. Michael Catholic Parrish in St. Michaels, and a funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. on Friday at St. Michael Indian School chapel in St. Michaels.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at