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Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah remembered as ‘inspirational leader’

Peterson Zah
Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President
Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah died Tue, March 7, 2023 at a hospital in Ft. Defiance, Ariz. He served as the tribe's first president after a government restructuring in the 1980s.

Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah has died. He served as the tribe’s first president following a major government restructuring.

Zah served as chairman of the Navajo Nation in the 1980s. He was then elected president in 1990 after the office of the chairman was dismantled and political power was shared more evenly among the three branches of tribal government.

Zah was a revered and respected leader, known as an advocate for environmental justice, education, and Indigenous families. Current Navajo President Buu Nygren first met Zah as a student at Arizona State University and calls him an inspirational leader.

"He was a legendary figure that really cared about our children, our children’s future and the Navajo Nation’s future," said Nygren.

Zah was a driving force behind the tribe’s Permanent Trust Fund, which is now worth billions of dollars. It was established after the tribe won a court case against the Kerr-McGee Corporation, that allowed the Navajo Nation to tax companies that extract oil, natural gas and coal from the reservation.

Zah died Tuesday at a hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona following a prolonged illness. He was 85.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.