Former Navajo Nation vice chairman, council speaker Edward T. Begay dies at 87

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation and New Mexico officials are remembering the leadership of former tribal vice chairman and tribal council speaker Edward T. Begay.

Begay, 87, died in Albuquerque on June 12, according to his family.

He was regarded as a leader whose work advanced the tribe, including helping to secure the first gaming compact with the State of New Mexico and leading a delegation that advocated before the United Nations for the recognition of the Navajo people's human rights.

"On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we offer our condolences and prayers to honorable Begay's family," tribal President Jonathan Nez said. "We also thank his loved ones for sharing his life with us and for all of their family's contributions to our Navajo people. He was a very loving and caring person who always put the people first."

Edward T. Begay

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed her condolences in a statement.

"Throughout his years of service, he was a strong advocate for preserving and maintaining Navajo culture and traditions through the nation's government, and his work was instrumental in negotiating the nation's first gaming compacts with the state," Lujan Grisham said. "I am grateful to Mr. Begay for his life of service to both the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico, and my prayers are with his family and loved ones."

Speaker Seth Damon and council delegates took a moment of silence to honor Begay during the council's special session on June 13.

"One thing that we learned from Ed T. Begay was that the voice of our people mattered, and his leadership be emphasized," Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said at the session.

She thanked the Begay family for sharing the former leader with the Navajo people.

"Many of us are here because we were able to hear his words in fighting for our people and making decisions that are in the best interest," Crotty said.

According to the speaker's office, funeral services are planned for next week.

Begay was Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Tl'ógí (Weaver-Zia Clan). His maternal grandfather clan was Táchii' nii (Red Running Into the Water), and his paternal grandfather clan was Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House).

A biography released by Begay's family states he grew up in the area of Nose Rock near Church Rock.

He was married to his high school sweetheart, Cecilia M. Damon, until her death in 1991.

"He once told a reporter he never stopped grieving her loss and found solace in public service," the biography states.

The couple have two daughters, Sharlene Begay-Platero and Sandra Begay, and twin grandchildren.

His biography is filled with accomplishments and contributions to further the tribe.

Begay, an Army veteran, served as Church Rock Chapter president from 1968 to 1970 then represented Church Rock and Breadsprings chapters on the Navajo Tribal Council from 1971 to 1983.

He was vice chairman from 1983 to 1987 to Chairman Peterson Zah. Both were fundamental in establishing the Permanent Trust Fund.

"He worked closely with Zah and the Navajo Nation Council to renegotiate mineral, coal, oil and gas leases with major energy companies to benefit the Navajo people better," the biography states.

After returning to the tribal council in 1991, he became speaker in 1999 and served two terms in that capacity.

A political office Begay held outside of tribal government was McKinley County Commissioner from 1979 to 1983.

He remained busy after his political career by serving on the boards of tribal enterprises and on board for Bethany Christian Reformed Church in Gallup.

"We will miss him at our dinner table, sitting next to us in church, and listening to his stories of the journeys his life has taken him on," his family said in their statement.

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

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: