Thomas Atcitty, a former interim Navajo Nation president and longtime New Mexico state representative, has died. He was 86.
Atcitty died Sunday of natural causes, the tribe said. Funeral services were scheduled Wednesday in Shiprock, New Mexico, where he lived most of his life.
Atcitty also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Joe Vandever Sr. was among hundreds of Navajos who served in the Marine Corps during World War II, transmitting messages using a code based on the Navajo language.
He served as the tribe’s vice president from 1995 to 1998 and was elevated to the top post after then-Navajo President Albert Hale resigned rather than face allegations he abused a tribal credit card.
Atcitty’s time as president was short-lived. Within months, the Navajo Nation Council removed him from office for accepting free trips and golf games from companies doing business with the tribe while he was vice president. Atcitty said accepting business gratuities didn’t violate rules and argued a golf game isn’t tangible.
He called the council’s action unfortunate and said he held no grudges.
“I walk away from the Navajo capital with my head high, knowing I have done nothing wrong,” he said at the time.
George Joe, a tribal spokesman for the Atcitty administration, said Wednesday that Atcitty got a “bum deal” from the council that was looking for someone to blame for the political chaos.
“They sacrificed some guy who was really nice, who wouldn’t harm anybody. He wouldn’t step on a fly,” Joe said. “That’s why he was so well-known, so well-liked.”
Before working for the tribal government, Atcitty served seven terms as a New Mexico state representative, from 1980 to 1994. He previously oversaw Navajo Community College — now Diné College, the first tribal college on a Native American reservation.
Atcitty helped establish the college’s Shiprock campus and pushed for the creation of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, made up of tribal colleges and universities across the country, Joe said.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said Atcitty “worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Navajo students, invest in tribal infrastructure and give a voice to the Navajo people.”
Navajo leaders offered condolences to Atcitty’s family. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Vicky, three children and numerous grandchildren.
“We ask our Creator to bless his family with strength and comfort at this time,” Navajo President Jonathan Nez said in a statement.