The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

President Nygren remembers the late Navajo leader who inspired him

TEMPE, Ariz. — President Buu Nygren joined Rosalind Zah to celebrate the life of Chairman and Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah on Tuesday.

The remembrance was held at the Memorial Union at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Zah was 85 when he lost his fight with cancer. He died March 7 at home. He was buried in Low Mountain. A memorial service was held at the Bee Hołdzil Fighting Scouts Events Center in Fort Defiance.

President Nygren remembered his mentor and the Navajo leader who inspired him not to give up.

“First and foremost, he was just such an inspiration to me,” he said. “I don’t think I’d have ever graduated from construction management if he wasn’t my champion.”

Dr. Zah was born Dec. 2, 1937, in Keams Canyon, Ariz. He was Kinyaa’áanii, born for Táchii’nii. His maternal grandfathers were Tódích’íi’nii and his paternal grandfathers were Tó’áhaní.

He attended the Phoenix Indian School, later enrolling at Phoenix Community College and eventually Arizona State University. He received he bachelor’s degree in 1963.

He returned home and taught Navajos carpentry. He co-founded and later became executive director of DNA-People’s Legal Services, a program that assisted the Navajo people.

He served as chairman of the Navajo Nation from 1983 to 1987. He was the first Navajo Nation President and he served from 1991 to 1995.

Dr. Zah was asked to be special advisor at ASU where he influenced President Nygren. Though he stepped down in 2011, Dr. Zah never stopped working for the people after his tenure at ASU.

“Reading about him is what really drove me into politics even though some people always assume, ‘What’s a construction guy going to do in politics?,’ President Nygren asked. “But he was instrumental in providing support and providing opportunity for our students.”

President Nygren shared a memory of what kept him going while attending college.

“I was like okay, ‘I guess I can stick around here. I might not be the smartest person in my class, but I’ll just keep trying.’ And that’s where I drew my inspiration,” he said.

Dr. Zah received honorary doctoral degrees from Arizona State University, Colorado College and The College of Santa Fe. He was the 2008 recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Servant Leadership Award.

His children are Eileen Zah, Keeyonnie Zah, and Elaine Beyal.