Peterson Zah, a monumental Navajo Nation leader who guided the tribe through a politically tumultuous era and worked tirelessly to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans, has died.

Mr. Zah was the first president elected on the Navajo Nation – the largest tribal reservation in the United States – in 1990 after the government was restructured into three branches to prevent power from being concentrated in the chairman’s office. At the time, the tribe was reeling from a deadly riot incited by Mr. Zah’s political rival, former Chairman Peter MacDonald, a year earlier.

Mr. Zah vowed to rebuild the tribe, and to support family and education, speaking with people in ways that imparted mutual respect, said his longtime friend Eric Eberhard. Mr. Zah was as comfortable putting on dress clothes to represent Navajos in Washington, D.C., as he was driving his old pickup truck around the reservation and sitting on the ground, listening to people who were struggling, he said.

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