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Former Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye dies at age 70

August 15, 2021 GMT

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo Nation officials have called for all flags on the vast reservation be flown at half-staff to honor former tribal President Kelsey Begaye.

They said Begaye, who served as Navajo Nation president from 1999 to 2003, died of natural causes Friday in Flagstaff. He was 70.

Current Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that Begaye “was a very humble and loving person who overcame adversities at a young age and turned to his faith to become a loving family man, a Vietnam veteran and a great leader for his people.”

Begaye was born in Kaibeto, Arizona and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969. He served four years as a radio operator while in Vietnam.

Tribal officials said Begaye later became a substance abuse counselor in the mid-1970s though 1990s, helping many young people overcome drug and alcohol abuse.

After serving two terms as the speaker of the tribal council, Begaye was elected the fifth president of the Navajo Nation in November 1998.

Begaye is survived by his wife, Marie, and five children. Their oldest son died in 2014.

Funeral services for Begaye were still pending Sunday.