A Grassroots Beginning
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye was born and raised in Shiprock, New Mexico. He grew up in a small farmhouse along the San Juan River with his four brothers and four sisters. His father was a farmer and a Road Man with Azee Bee Nahaghahi. At that time, this practice was considered illegal. President Begaye’s father was often jailed, but he never stopped his practice. His mother was an herbalist, song writer, hand trembler, and crystal gazer. Together, they helped everyone, sometimes traveling great distances to help Navajo people, by performing numerous ceremonies. Both of his parents did not speak English, but they knew other Native American languages for practicing Azee Bee Nahaghahi and trade.
Although President Begaye spent most of his time on the farm, in the summertime, he was sent to the family sheep camp in Red Valley, Arizona. In addition, he was responsible for tending to the family harvest of apricot and peach trees. Today, President Begaye can often be seen carrying around a box of apricots, his favorite fruit, to share with community members.
President Begaye’s early years serves as the foundation for his holistic vision of the future for our great Navajo Nation, one that is wrapped in the ancient teachings and ways of our people.
Teaching the traditional ways was very important to President Begaye’s parents, but a formal education taught at boarding school was an unknown. Out of fear of sending their first son alone to a foreign place, they changed President Begaye’s birthdate so he could attend school with his older brother, Andrew. Before the first day of school, the entire family traveled to Farmington for new clothes and shoes. As each sibling started school, this annual trip to town became an exciting adventure for the family. Before ending each trip, it became a tradition for each brother and sister to select a treat at the local trading post. President Begaye was known for always finding the largest ice cream cone.
For two years, President Begaye and Andrew attended the Shiprock Boarding School, where President Begaye was reprimanded multiple times for speaking Navajo. As a resilient Navajo, he never stopped speaking the language. After two years at the local boarding school, he transferred to the Shiprock Public School system, and later graduated from Shiprock High School. President Begaye proudly proclaims, “Once a Chieftain, always a Chieftain.”
After high school, he attended the University of California, Los Angeles. Soon after graduating with his bachelor’s degree, President Begaye taught for several years as a faculty member in the UCLA’s Department of Linguistics.
President Begaye’s early years, extensive education, teaching experience, and knowledge enables him to decipher critical issues, seek progressive and productive solutions, and enhances his ability to understand multiple world views. All of this combined demonstrates his natural ability to lead and do what’s best for the Navajo Nation.
Impacting The World and Making a Difference
For 15 years, President Begaye worked extensively with the Navajo government, neighboring Native American tribes, and organizations to build collaborative partnerships. He has worked with tribal leaders on developing communities and growing businesses by utilizing business techniques that harmonize with the natural world. He helped to develop a worldwide consultation network with tribal leaders and Indigenous Peoples. He assumed a leadership role through the United Nations and Homeland Security to aid refuges who immigrated to the United States. He also worked closely with native youth to create an annual youth conference for Native American students across the United States and Canada.
He uses K’é as a powerful tool for bringing people together from differing beliefs to solve today’s problems and preparing for the future.
Plan of Action
In 2011, President Begaye began his public service as a Navajo Nation Council Delegate representing the Shiprock Chapter. He also served on the Law and Order Committee of the 22nd Navajo Nation Council. During the four year term, President Begaye strongly advocated for the re-criminalization of more than 20 criminal acts against women, children, and the disabled. He is spearheading an effort with Diné College and Navajo Technical University to establish a program for Navajo Nation police cadets. He fought against Senate Bill 2109 and will continue his fight for water for the people and future generations by maintaining a strong relationship with Congress and the Grassroots. He fought for a three percent raise for Navajo Nation employees and will continue to fight for Navajo Nation employees by striving to set up competitive salary increases.
As a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, President Begaye has seen and faced many hurdles and barriers that prevent the Nation from moving forward. During his term on council, President Begaye developed a plan of action to address the issues the Navajo Nation faces, one by one. During the tribal presidential rallies, debates, forums, and meetings, President Begaye presented the plan of action. He chose to address those areas that are a concern to Navajo citizens. As such, his rallies were in the form of questions and answers.
The one platform President Begaye will stand on for all four years Navajo Nation President is UNITY. We must all work together, the Navajo Nation Council, the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, and all 110 chapters.
Our tribal government must stop being divided.