Famous Navajo

Famous Navajo from the historical period.
Hoskininni (d. 1912), also known as Hush-Kaaney (meaning angry one) – Governed the remote lands in the Monument Valley/Navajo Mountain region in the current state of Utah. Hoskininni and his band of Navajo resisted the efforts of the United States military to round up all Navajo and force them to march hundreds of miles east, to Bosque Redondo/Fort Sumner, New Mexico (known as “The Long Walk”).
Chief Hoskininni and his band avoided capture for four years by hiding out in the remote lands of Navajo Mountain, where perennial springs were located. The group subsisted on pinon nuts, game, and the few sheep they had managed to bring with them when they fled the military. Hoskininni’s sound leadership eventually enabled this particular band of Navajo to thrive and prosper in this area.
Legend says that Hoskininni and his band discovered silver in the area because of the large amounts of jewelry that the band possessed, noticed by other Navajos who returned to the area after internment at Bosque Redondo ended. However, no silver mine or deposit has ever been found. Hoskininni died in 1912 in Monument Valley, where he lived with his family.
Manuelito a.k.a. Hastiin Ch’ilhaajinii (1818-1893) – One of the principal war chiefs of the Diné people before, during and after the Long Walk Period. Born near Bear’s Ears, Utah into the Bit’ahni (Folded Arms People). This clan was his mother’s clan. His father was Cayetano, a Navajo leader. When Manuelito was young, he participated in an ambush against the Pueblo Indians. He earned the war name Hashkeh Naabaah (Angry Warrior). Manuelito has also been called Bullet Hole, for a bullet wound to his chest.
He married the daughter of Narbona, a prominent Navajo peace leader, at the age of sixteen. Narbona was later killed. In 1855 Governor David Merriweather of New Mexico appointed Manuelito the “official chief” of the Navajo after Zarcillos Largos resigned. He was one of the twenty-five leaders to sign the Treaty of 1868. This treaty allowed the Navajo to return to their ancestral homelands.
Manuelito was interested in Anglo-American education because he saw it as a way to better his family’s life. His interest in Anglo-American education motivated him to send his two sons and a nephew to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Sadly, both of his children and the nephew contracted tuberculosis and died of the disease while attending Carlisle School.
Chief Barboncito – Signed the Navajo Treaty of 1868.
Chief Armijo – Signed the Navajo Treaty of 1868.
Chiefs, leaders, medicine men, scholars…
Navajo Actors / Filmmakers:

Klee Benally, musician and documentary filmmaker
Jeremiah Bitsui, actor
Geraldine Keams, actress, writer, and storyteller

Navajo Artists:

Harrison Begay (1914–2012), Studio painter
Atsidi Sani (c. 1828–1918), First known Navajo silversmith
Raven Chacon (born 1977), Conceptual artist
Lorenzo Clayton (born 1940), artist
R. C. Gorman (1932–2005), painter and printmaker.

Famed Navajo artist R.C. Gorman dead at age 74
Navajo artist R.C. Gorman, sculptures and fine art prints from the southwest

David Johns (born 1948), painter
Yazzie Johnson, contemporary silversmith
Hastiin Klah, weaver and co-founder of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
Gerald Nailor, Sr. (1917–1952), studio painter
Clara Nezbah Sherman, weaver
Ryan Singer, painter, illustrator, screen printer
Tommy Singer, silversmith and jeweler
Quincy Tahoma (1920–1956), studio painter
Klah Tso (mid-19th century — early 20th century), pioneering easel painter
Emmi Whitehorse, contemporary painter
Melanie Yazzie, contemporary print maker and educator

Navajo Athletes:
NOTAH BEGAY –  PGA Pro Golfer, of Navajo, San Felipe and Isleta lineage. Begay is the first Native American Indian to join a PGA Tour. He turned professional in 1995 and joined the tour in 1999.
CORY WITHERILL – Race Car Driver, of the Navajo Nation. Witherill has been racing for more than 15 years, including three seasons in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship. In 2001 he finally debuted in the Indy Racing League and then the Indy 500 (placing 19 out of 33). The first full-blooded Native American to run in the Indy 500, he also holds two U.S. championships for off-road stadium racing and in 2001 became the first person to be a four-time champion at the Motorcross Valvoline de Montreal. His career goal is to be the first Native American to win the Indy 500.
Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees outfielder (enrolled Colorado River Indian Tribes).
Rickie Fowler, American professional golfer.
Navajo Comedians:

James and Ernie, comedy duo

Navajo Dancers:

Jock Soto, ballet dancer


Blackfire, punk rock band and pow wow drum group
Raven Chacon, composer
Radmilla Cody, traditional singer
R. Carlos Nakai, musician, flutist


Chris Deschene – veteran, an attorney, an engineer, and a community leader. One of few Native Americans to be accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. He made an unsuccessful attempt to run for Navajo Nation President.

Henry Chee Dodge (1857?-1947) – Was the last official Head Chief and the first Tribal Chairman of the Navajo Tribe. He was born at Ft. Defiance, Arizona, to a Navajo-Jemez mother of the Coyote Pass Clan. The exact year of birth and the name of his father are not known. At around six years of age, Dodge’s mother left home and never returned. Dodge lived with various other family members until there was a mix-up and he was accidentally left alone beside a trail.
He met a young girl and her grandfather traveling on the trail, and they adopted him. He was living with this family when, in 1864, he was forced by the United States Government, along with thousands of other Navajos to walk over 300 miles to Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico from their homelands in what is now northeastern Arizona. The Navajo people refer to this forced relocation as “The Long Walk.”
In 1868 the Navajo were finally allowed to return to their ancestral homes. Upon his return to his homeland, Dodge was reunited with an aunt who had married an anglo. Dodge eventually learned English through his exposure to Anglo culture. He then enrolled in the Fort Defiance Indian School where he learned to read and write in English. He followed the old Navajo custom of marrying multiple wives. It is said that he may have had as many as eight wives at one time.
In 1884 he was named head of the Navajo Police force. Later that same year he was named “head chief” by agent Dennis Riordan. In 1890 he formed a partnership with a white trader, Stephen Aldrich, and opened a trading post at Round Rock, Arizona. In 1892 his trading post was a major part of a conflict between Indian agent Dana Shipley and a powerful Navajo headman named Black Horse. In the end, Dodge skillfully negotiated a peaceful end to the explosive affair.
In 1923 Dodge was selected the first chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1942 he was elected tribal chairman for another term. He was reelected in 1946, but contracted pneumonia soon after and died from the disease on January 7, 1947. Dodge was survived by five of his six children, one of whom was Annie Dodge Wauneka. She became the first woman to be elected to the Navajo Tribal Council.

Peter MacDonald, former Navajo Tribal Chairman

Kenneth Maryboy (Aneth/Red Mesa/Mexican Water), helped initiate the Navajo Santa Program for poverty stricken Navajo families.

Mark Maryboy (Aneth/Red Mesa/Mexican Water), former Navajo Nation Council Delegate, working in Utah Navajo Investments

Lilakai Julian Neil, first woman elected to Navajo Tribal Council (1946–1951)
Ben Shelly, former Navajo Nation President
Joe Shirley, Jr., former President of the Navajo Nation
Annie Dodge Wauneka (1910-1997) – Was born on April 10, 1910 near Sawmill, AZ. Her father was Henry Chee Dodge. She began her education at a boarding school in Ft. Defiance, Arizona at the age of eight. The school experienced a tuberculosis outbreak during the time of Annie’s attendance. Annie was in the first grade and even at this young age, she helped the school nurse tend the sick.
In the sixth grade Annie was sent to the Albuquerque Indian School. Her formal education ended at the end of eleventh grade, but later in life she returned to school where she earned a Bachelors Degree in Public Health from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Annie also received an honorary Doctorate Degree from her alma mater for her tireless efforts to better the lives of the Navajo people.
Annie married George Wauneka in October, 1929. After her marriage she began to work closely with her father until his death in 1947. Two years after his death she was appointed as the first woman member of the Navajo Tribal Council. In 1951 she was appointed to serve as Chairman of the Tribal Council’s Health and Welfare Committee. In 1956, the Surgeon General of the United States invited Mrs. Wauneka to become a member of the Advisory Committee on Indian health.
The greatest award given to Mrs. Wauneka was the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. President John F. Kennedy sent her the news in the fall of 1963. The actual presentation was made by President Lyndon B. Johnson because President Kennedy had been assassinated. This award is given as the highest civil honor presented to an individual in peacetime. Men and women who make outstanding contributions to the security of the nation, to world peace or to cultural endeavors are considered as possible recipients for this award.
In 1997, at age 87, Mrs. Wauneka died. Her whole life was dedicated to the betterment of her tribe. A great humanitarian, Dodge fought for human rights, rights that she believed all people were entitled to have. Through her work as an activist, Dodge helped health care move into a modern place, one that would better serve Native American interests and needs. Dodge’s past efforts in health care will continue to affect present and future Native needs.

Peterson Zah (b. 1937) – Zah was born and raised in Low Mountain, Arizona. This area encompasses the area of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. While living at Low Mountain, Zah gained valuable knowledge of his own tribe and living in close proximity to the Hopi brought him valuable knowledge of the Hopi tribe as well. He led efforts to reorganize the Navajo tribal government. He became the Navajo Nation’s first president in 1990.
Zah acquired his first political position in Window Rock in 1967. He was hired as the head of the Dine’beiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe (DNA). The DNA provided legal assistance to the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache Tribes. In addition,  Mr. Zah was elected president of the Window Rock Unified School District Board of Directors in 1973, which was the first all Navajo school board. He advocated for more recruitment of Navajo teachers to work on the Navajo reservation.
In 1982 he was elected Tribal Chairman, replaced long term chairman Peter MacDonald for one term. In 1988 he was re-elected, accepting the position of the President of the Navajo Nation under the newly reorganized government structure. He held that position until 1995. Mr. Zah is featured in the 100 Native Americans who shaped American History, a publication by Bluewood Books.Education has played a big part in Zah’s life.


Sherwin Bitsui, author and poet
Ivan Gamble, writer/social activist 
Luci Tapahonso, poet and lecturer
Elizabeth Woody, author, educator, and environmentalist

Navajo in the American Military:
The Navajo language was used to create a secret code to battle the Japanese during World War II. Navajo men were selected to create codes in the Navajo language and served on the front line to overcome and deceive those on the other side of the battlefield. Today, these men are recognized as the famous Navajo Code Talkers.Navajo Code Talkers At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.
In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp. Then, at Camp Pendleton , Oceanside , California , this first group created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training. Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. Approximately 400 Navajos were trained as code talkers.
Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima : the Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language — a code that the Japanese never broke. Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Fred Begay, nuclear physicist and a Korean War veteran
Joe Kieyoomia, captured by the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of the Philippines in 1942
Chester Nez, was the last original Navajo code talker who served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.

Other notable people with Navajo ancestry:

Albert Laughter, Navajo medicine man.

Navajo Nation

September 16, 2014

Manuelito (1818–1893) was one of the principal war chiefs of the Diné people before, during and after the Long Walk Period. His name means Little Manuel in Spanish. As any Navajo, he was known by different names depending upon context.

Famous Navajo