Friday, August 26, 2005

OBT: Raymond Nakai

Jeanette Scott sent me a link to the Native American Way blog and to a long but detailed article about native exploitation. This is similar to a site by Dr. Elizabeth Cubbins at the University of Arizona that i've linked for several years (now in limbo but here's a companion site with summarized info in a website critique form). Nevertheless this has some more recent info it appears. Anyway i'm posting here instead an obituary i found on the same site, and also of importance. Thanks, Jeannette.

Raymond Nakai, 86, influential Navajo tribal leader
Mark Shaffer,, Republic Flagstaff Bureau, Aug. 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Former Navajo President Raymond Nakai, a leader in Native American higher education and father of renowned flutist R. Carlos Nakai, died late Sunday at age 86.

Nakai, who led the nation's largest reservation from 1963 until 1971, paved the way for the founding of Navajo Community College, the first Native American-controlled junior college in the country, which had its name changed later to Dineh College.

Nakai also was instrumental in empowering Navajo citizens against their own government and giving legitimacy to the Native American Church, which had suffered from years of oppression in Indian country, former Navajo President Peterson Zah said.

"He was a wonderful man and good leader," Zah said. "He really woke up the people and gave Navajos their first real bill of rights. Before Nakai, it was a real gray area between members of tribe and their government. He also was a huge advocate of the Native American Church against those who questioned the legitimacy of it."

Nakai also brought former Navajo President Peter MacDonald back to the three-state reservation to oversee economic development in the 1960s.

Nakai then defended MacDonald, once the most powerful Native American in the country, to the end when scandal and riots ended his administration in 1989.

Peter Iverson, an Arizona State University historian and expert on the Navajos, said Nakai was one of the first Native American leaders to bring media savvy to the office. Nakai had been a radio broadcaster in Flagstaff before his political career.

"He was well-educated and had lived off the reservation and made significant use of the radio," Iverson said. "He resonated extremely well with the Navajo people because he pledged to spend less for white elephants and monuments and more for hogans and then followed through."

Iverson said that although MacDonald and Zah have been the Navajo political giants the past 30 years, Nakai dominated the era before and that "he was one of the great bilingual speakers ever from the culture."

Funeral services tentatively are scheduled for Thursday in Nakai's home community of Lukachukai on the Navajo Nation.