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Ben Shelly
Ben Shelly. Photo by Rick Abasta / Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President
Former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly passes on
Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Ben Shelly, a former president of the Navajo Nation, passed away on Wednesday morning. He was 75 years old.

Shelly served as president from 2011 to 2015. He had previously served as vice president on the reservation, the largest in the United States, from 2007 to 2011.

Shelly, who was from the New Mexico portion of the reservation, had been suffering from an illness, according to a news release. He was with his family when he passed.

A public memorial will be planned at a future date, according to the release.

Former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly Passes from Illness
News release from the family of Ben Shelly.

Gallup, New Mexico — Former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, 75, passed away this morning from a long term illness. He was with his family.

Ben Shelly from Thoreau, NM, was elected in 2010, and assumed office on January 11, 2011. With the Navajo Nation Council being reorganized from an 88 member legislative body to 24, the president came took office with a new government structure. He was given an additional referendum approval of a ‘line item veto’ power to red line budget measures approved by the Navajo Nation Council.

Although the former president lost his re-election bid in the 2014 primary election, he was sworn into a second term on January 13, 2015, holding the presidency for five more months.

Ben Shelly was the first sitting vice president to be elected president. He was also the second leader from the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation to be elected, following Chairman Paul Jones of Naschitti. Chairman Sam Ahkeah from Gadii’ahi-To’koi served as vice chairman from 1943 to 1947. Ahkeak was the first vice chairman to be elected chairman in 1946.

The former president served as vice president from 2007 to his inauguration as president in 2011. He served in the Navajo Nation Council for 16 years representing Thoreau, NM. While on the Council he served on the Community Development and Transportation Committee, the Economic Development Committee as well as the Budget and Finance as committee chairman.

Other public service includes eight years as County Commissioner for McKinley County which ran concurrent to his service in the Navajo Nation Council.

The former President was married for 57 years to Mrs. Martha Shelly originally of Coyote Canyon. They have five adult children, 12 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren.

The president remained active in Navajo leadership after stepping down from office. He and his family ran a transportation business for the last seven years.

The family will be holding a private service for the former president. A public memorial will be planned at a future date.