Former Navajo leader, NM state representative Thomas Atcitty dead at 86

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Thomas Atcitty, a long-term state representative who became Navajo Nation vice president then president in the 1990s, has died.

Atcitty, a lifelong resident of Shiprock, died from natural causes on Oct. 11, according to the tribe's Office of the President and Vice President. He was 86.

Atcitty was elected in November 1980 to the New Mexico House of Representatives, where he served until stepping down in January 1995 to become the tribe's vice president, according to The Daily Times archives.

He became president immediately following the Feb. 19, 1998 resignation of Albert Hale, who left office to avoid prosecution on charges that he misused tribal funds.

Atcitty's presidency lasted until July 23, 1998. He was removed from office that day by the 88-member Navajo Nation Council for violating the tribe's ethics code by accepting meals, lodging and golf games from companies that courted business with the tribe during his vice presidency, according to The Daily Times archives.

Thomas Atcitty

Atcitty's service to the Navajo people was recognized by tribal leaders on Oct. 14, as well as condolences to his wife, Vicky Atcitty, and their three children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"Honorable Thomas Atcitty leaves behind a great legacy and many long-lasting memories for his family, friends and all Navajo people. We ask our Creator to bless his family with strength and comfort at this time," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a press release.

Delegate Paul Begay paused to remember Atcitty on Oct. 14 during the Health, Education and Human Services Committee meeting.

"He covered a lot of ground in the area of serving people here on Navajo land as well as the whole state, going up as far as the federal level to help our people," Begay said.

Delegate Daniel E. Tso recognized Atcitty's action to finalize the tribe's purchase of the land that holds Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington.

Navajo Prep acknowledged Atcitty's service as headmaster of Navajo Academy and as a graduate of Navajo Mission, both precursors to the college preparatory school.

"When a great Navajo leader journeys on, we recognize their efforts and contributions to the development of the great Navajo Nation. Thomas Atcitty served honorably and continues to serve as a figure of great compassion and duty to the Navajo people," Speaker Seth Damon said in a press release.

Aside from a political career, Atcitty, who served in the Marine Corps, was president of Navajo Community College, later named Diné College, from 1972 to 1977, according to the tribal president's office.

The college posted a statement on Facebook, stating that Atcitty was instrumental in establishing the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

"Mr. Atcitty fought for the legitimacy of American Indian higher education in a time of uncertainty. His accomplishments are a major reason why Diné College has grown to the institution it is today and we are thankful for the contributions he made to our history," according to the statement.

A funeral service was held on Oct. 14 in Shiprock.

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

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