Peter Deswood Jr., a champion of Navajo governance, walked on February 15.

Champion of Navajo Governance Peter Deswood Jr. Walks On


Peter Deswood, Jr., the man who took local empowerment to new heights through Kayenta Township, served three tribal presidents, and won a seat on the Navajo Nation Council in 1978 after the Navajo Supreme Court reinstated him because the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors (NBOES) deemed him “too young” to run for office, passed away on February 15, 2016. He was 66 years old.

Mr. Deswood was Kinłichii’nii, born for Tó’aheedlíinii, maternal grandparent Kiyaa’áanii, and paternal grandparents Tó tsohnii. He was born in Ganado, Arizona. His parents were Peter H. Deswood Sr. and Evelyn Notah Deswood. He is survived by his wife Maggie Deswood. They were married for 43 years. His four children are Shawna Deswood, Peter Deswood III, Kevin Deswood, and Nat Deswood—all from Farmington, New Mexico. He has 10 grandchildren.

He has several siblings Luke Deswood, Marilyn Nez, Virginia Deswood, Sally Deswood, Henry Deswood, Susie Deswood, and Phillip/Sandra Deswood.

He attended the University of Arizona in the 1970s. It is there he learned how the intricacies of organization and leadership impact tribal government. He began his career as a Lukachukai Chapter Council delegate after winning his well-known case in Deswood vs. NBOES. From 1983-1987, he served for former Chairman Peterson Zah as executive director for the then Division of Water Resources. Under Interim Chairman Leonard Haskie, from 1989-1991, he served as executive director for the Division of Natural Resources. Later under President Albert Hale, from 1995-1996, he briefly served as executive director of the Division of Community Development until he was elevated to a special assignment for Hale’s Local Empowerment initiative. He also worked for Navajo Agriculture Products Industry for a period.

Over the years, friends and family would call him “Mr. Local Empowerment” and other tribes began seeking his consultation.

He truly believed the Navajo Nation would only prosper under local control and to that end, he took a job as the first Town Manager for Kayenta Township during the late 1990s and early 2000s. During his time there, he implemented new policies, self-regulation, and pursued innovative approaches to local governance. In March 2000, his effort was recognized by one of the country’s largest newspapers, the Arizona Republic, in an article entitled, “Navajo Township Rocks Tribal Establishment.” He was quoted as saying, “To many of the bureaucrats on this reservation, we are this monster out here growing and they have no idea how to deal with it,” Deswood said. “But the answer to that is simple. Give towns their freedom.”

In 1999, Kayenta Township was one of the first to receive high honors recognition by Harvard University’s prestigious Honoring Nations Program in the Governance of American Indian Nations award for the self-governance initiative.

Over the years Deswood was often asked by many to run for Navajo president, but he never did. In 2014, he was amused by an anonymous newspaper advertisement asking him to run for office. He was highly respected, virtuous and a consequential leader. He was known as a walking encyclopedia on Navajo politics and many asked his advice. He was well-known across the Navajo Nation for being humble, friendly and generous. He regularly planted each summer out in Lukachukai fields and was deeply devoted to his family and close friends.

After Kayenta Township, Deswood worked for a few years at Shiprock Chapter to then return to Window Rock in 2009 to work for the Navajo Division of Economic Development as Senior Economic Development Specialist. He served in that position until he passed on President’s Day.

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