Peterson Zah

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Peterson Zah
Tribal Energy Summit (5693942150).jpg
President of the Navajo Nation
In office
January 15, 1991 – January 10, 1995
Vice PresidentMarshall Plummer
Preceded byPosition established (Peter MacDonald as Chairman)
Succeeded byAlbert Hale
Personal details
Born (1937-12-02) December 2, 1937 (age 82)
Low Mountain, Arizona, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationArizona State University, Tempe (BA)

Peterson Zah (born December 2, 1937) is an American politician who was the first Navajo President and the last Chairman of the Navajo Nation.[1] Since 1995, he has been working at Arizona State University as the Special Adviser to ASU President on American Indian Affairs. Zah also works as a consultant to companies attempting to do business on the Navajo Nation.


Peterson Zah was born December 2, 1937 in Low Mountain, Arizona, the son of Henry and Mae Multine Zah. He was educated at Phoenix Indian School and Arizona State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in education in 1963.[2]

After college, Zah spent a year working in Phoenix for the Arizona Vocational Education Department, teaching carpentry to adult students seeking vocational skills. From 1965 to 1967 he was a participant in Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), working at Arizona State University as field coordinator of a training center.[1]

In 1967 Zah became deputy director of the Diné beʼiiná Náhiilnaah bee Aghaʼdiitʼaahii (DNA) People's Legal Service, a nonprofit organization. A few years later he became Executive Director and remained in that position until 1981. Under Zah's leadership, several of the organization's legal cases related to Indian sovereignty reached the U.S. Supreme Court.[2]

In 1972, Zah won election to the school board in Window Rock, Arizona; the following year he became board president. In 1983 he became chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council at Window Rock, the governing body for the Navajo reservation headquartered there. He served in that position until 1987, when he became engaged in fundraising for the Navajo Education and Scholarship Foundation. In 1989 and 1990 he directed a regional office for Save the Children, and in 1990 was elected president of the new Navajo Nation, the first person to be elected to that position.[2] He was inaugurated as President on Tuesday, January 15, 1991.[3][4]

Among the accomplishments that Zah is credited with during his time as Navajo president was working productively with Hopi tribal leader Ivan Sidney to resolve issues related to the land dispute between the two tribes. Zah and Sidney had been childhood friends. But ultimately nothing was done to help the Navajo Hopi JUA Situation, which led to thousands of Navajos being relocated.[2] During Zah's term, he established the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund, utilizing tens of millions of dollars won in a lawsuit against Peabody Coal Company. The NNPTF has grown to over a billion dollars.

In 1995 Peterson Zah became Special Advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs for Arizona State University.[2]

Zah has received honorary degrees from Colorado College and the College of Santa Fe.[2]


  1. ^ a b Peterson Zah Biography
  2. ^ a b c d e f Peterson Zah Collection, 1969-1994, Arizona Archives Online, Arizona State University
  3. ^ "Democracy Era Begins For Largest U.S. Tribe". New York Times. 1991-01-17. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  4. ^ "President-elect Albert Hale Plans Changes For Navajos". Associated Press. Kingman Daily Miner. 1995-01-09. Retrieved 2012-07-09.