Tempe, Ariz. (March 8, 2023) – It is with heavy hearts we share the passing of Dr. Peterson Zah, former President of the Navajo Nation and advocate for Native American rights, on March 7, 2023. Dr. Zah was 85 years old.
Dr. Zah was a revered leader and visionary who dedicated his life to improving the lives of Native American people, particularly in the areas of education and economic development. He was a graduate of Arizona State University (ASU).
In 1963, he earned a bachelor’s degree in education at ASU. Soon after, he returned to his homeland as a vocational educator, teaching Navajo adults the essentials of carpentry, and then as a field coordinator for VISTA Indian Training Center. He co-founded and became executive director of DNA-People’s Legal Services, a nonprofit legal services program for the Navajo, Hopi and Apache people. He assisted tribes in legal matters, set up widespread community education programs, and championed Native rights.
In 1982, Dr. Zah was elected Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1990, under a new tribal government, Peterson Zah was elected the first president of the Navajo Nation, leading the movement to restructure and modernize their governmental system from a council to a nation. This makes Dr. Zah the last Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council and the first President of the Navajo Nation.