'He's done a lot': Procession evokes reflection on state Sen. John Pinto's service
SHIPROCK — Tommy Nelson carefully unrolled a United States flag while waiting for the procession for the late Navajo Code Talker and state Sen. John Pinto to arrive here on May 29.
Nelson came from Waterflow to the Shiprock Chapter house to pay his respects to Pinto, who died on May 24 in Gallup.
Pinto had served in the state senate since 1977, becoming a voice in Santa Fe to address the needs of residents on the Navajo Nation.
"He was a man that brought a lot to the community and the region within McKinley County and San Juan County," Nelson said adding Pinto is recognized by many for spearheading the project to widen U.S. Highway 491.
"He did a lot more than that. Within his 40 years, he accomplished a lot of stuff with state government and the tribe, getting funding for education and for senior citizens. Even the chapter level, he used to help," he said.
Anita Hayes thought about Pinto's decades in office as she stood with her relatives, Rita Belin and Lorenzo Garnenez.
Hayes, manager for Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter, said Pinto's work this year brought the chapter money from the Capital Outlay bill to develop power lines and for its senior program.
"He was involved in all his communities and stood for the Indian people," she said.
The Navajo Hopi Honor Riders led the motorcade that escorted the senator's remains from Gallup to Santa Fe, for a memorial service on May 29 at the state Capitol.
Afterward, the procession will return to Gallup, where a funeral service will take place on May 30.
Bobby Martin, the group's president, explained the Pinto family organized the route to travel along Highway 491 to allow community members to say farewell and pay respect.
"All along the route there have been people lined up, holding up flags, waving and showing their respect for the senator," Martin said.
After the pause in Shiprock, they continued to Farmington, Bloomfield, Cuba, Bernalillo and Santa Fe.
"We are truly honored that the family requested this service of us. Not only did we respect Mr. Pinto but his family, so it's a privilege for us to be able to do this," Martin said.
Nikki Charlie, 14, and Leilah Charlie, 10, sat on horses while watching the motorcade pass the intersection of highways 64 and 491. Then the sisters rode to the chapter house.
Although both are too young to vote, they knew about Pinto.
"He's done a lot. I feel that coming down here was a welcoming, that he's being put to rest," Nikki Charlie said.
Amelda Sandoval Shay was among those who waited across the highway to see the motorcade leave the chapter house.
The first time Shay, a Lukachukai, Arizona resident, saw Pinto was in the 1960s at a fair in Window Rock, Arizona.
She recalled he was a young man riding a horse that carried his name on a banner.
"I always hear his name on the radio," Shay said. "I was standing here thinking he had a good life. He must have no regrets."
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.