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Primary Member, Navajo Nation, Royalty Policy Committee

Russell Begaye, representing the Navajo Nation, was named as a primary member of the Department of the Interior’s Royalty Policy Committee, which will advise Secretary Ryan Zinke “on policy and strategies to improve management of the multi-billion dollar, federal and American Indian mineral revenue program.”

Russell Begaye “was born and raised in Shiprock, N.M” and earned his B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduating, Begaye “taught for several years as a faculty member in the UCLA’s Department of Linguistics,” as well as “worked and was a consultant with the United Nations, other National Organizations, and led National Youth Conferences.” He also “spent part of his earlier life as a Southern Baptist minister.” Begaye founded a construction firm in Atlanta and redeveloped “old houses in six states, ranging from Georgia to California.” Begaye returned to the reservation in 2007 and served as “a Navajo Nation Council Delegate representing the Shiprock Chapter” beginning in 2011. He was elected President of the Navajo Nation in 2015.

Sources: [U.S. Department of the Interior, Press Release, 09/01/17, President Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation, accessed 09/20/17, “Russell Begaye promises fresh hope for Shiprock,” Farmington Daily Times, 10/28/10, Russell Begaye, Press Release, 07/13/14, accessed 09/20/17 via archive.org, Marilyn Berlin Snell, “Navajo Monster Slayers: a tribe struggles to fight corruption,” High Country News, 08/29/11, and Bill Donovan, “Question remains about Begaye’s wife,” Navajo Times, 06/18/15]

Background Information

Previous Employers

University of California, Los Angeles 

United Nations

Navajo Nation Council

Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President

Additional Background Information on Employers of Note:

Russell Begaye, while serving as Navajo Nation Council Delegate, suggested “using the tribe’s permanent trust fund” to help the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, which projected having “$160 million of outstanding debt in 2015.”

Russell Begaye, while serving as Navajo Nation Council Delegate, suggested that the tribe help the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company, which projected having “$160 million of outstanding debt in 2015,” by “using the tribe’s permanent trust fund. To access that fund, which holds more than $1 billion, the council would have to develop and approve a five-year plan for the funds,” which “would appear before Navajo voters as a referendum. ‘I keep bringing it up that we need to utilize it,’ Begaye said.” [Erny Zah, “Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. board chairman wants to hold off on charter amendments,” Farmington Daily Times, 08/19/14]

Current Activity

Russell Begaye signed “a lease extension that will allow” the Navajo Generating Station, “a coal-fired power plant in northeastern Arizona,” “to continue operating through December 2019.” Begaye said that “‘the power plant and mine that fuels it are vital to the jobs and economic strategy of the Navajo Nation.'”

In July 2017, “Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye” signed “a lease extension that will allow” the Navajo Generating Station, “a coal-fired power plant in northeastern Arizona,” “to continue operating through December 2019.” The plant’s lease was “set to expire in two years” and its “plant’s owners announced in February [2017] they would close it because cheaper power from natural gas is readily available,” telling “the Navajo Nation Council that they’d shut it down this year if they didn’t get an extension.” [“Navajo Nation president to sign coal plant’s lease extension,” Associated Press, 07/01/17]

Russell Begaye said, of the Navajo Generating Station, “‘The power plant and mine that fuels it are vital to the jobs and economic strategy of the Navajo Nation. […] The Nation has taken a seat at the table with stakeholders who are committed to keep the plant operating long term. This study provides important new information demonstrating the plant can continue to be competitive well into the future.'” [Erin Mundahl, “Why Coal Is Still Strong in the Southwest,” InsideSources.com, 04/11/17]

Russell Begaye met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in April 2017. It was “unclear if their conversation focused on the future of the Navajo Generating Station, a huge coal plant facing closure by its owners.”

Interior Secretary Ryan “Zinke’s schedules show he hosted Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and the chief of staff for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in early April” 2017. It was “unclear if their conversation focused on the future of the Navajo Generating Station, a huge coal plant facing closure by its owners.” [Juliet Eilperin, “Interior secretary’s schedule shows a bevy of meetings with various groups,” The Washington Post, 05/21/17]

Other Information

Russell Begaye “was one of four shareholder representatives” for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company “that sued in federal court to overturn a decision by the tribe’s high court that reinstated the company’s chief executive officer and five board members.” When Begaye was a Navajo Nation presidential candidate, “onetime presidential hopeful Myron McLaughlin” alleged that Begaye “wrongfully received stipends for unduly called meetings and was given money unlawfully for legal representation at a time of chaos in the company.” McLaughlin also alleged that Begaye “would not have the tribe’s best interest in mind [as president] because he was party to a lawsuit challenging a Navajo Nation Supreme Court decision in federal court.”

Russell Begaye “was one of four shareholder representatives” for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company “that sued in federal court to overturn a decision by the tribe’s high court that reinstated the company’s chief executive officer and five board members.” “Onetime presidential hopeful Myron McLaughlin,” who “sought to have Russell Begaye removed from the [Navajo Nation presidential] race by alleging financial improprieties and questioning Begaye’s loyalty to the tribe,” said the action “was a clear display of disloyalty” to the tribe. McLaughlin alleged that Begaye “wrongfully received stipends for unduly called meetings and was given money unlawfully for legal representation at a time of chaos in the company.” He also alleged that Begaye “would not have the tribe’s best interest in mind [as Navajo Nation president] because he was party to a lawsuit challenging a Navajo Nation Supreme Court decision in federal court.” McLaughlin’s complaint was dismissed. [Felicia Fonseca, “Ruling sides with Navajo presidential candidate,” Associated Press, 11/25/14 and Felicia Fonseca, “Navajo court hears challenge in president’s race,” Associated Press, 11/14/14]

Russell Begaye tweeted, in April 2014, that he was “attending the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas dinner at Sandia Casino and Resort.”

Russell Begaye tweeted, in April 2014, that he was “attending the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas dinner at Sandia Casino and Resort.” [Tweet by Russell Begaye, 04/25/14, accessed 09/20/17]


Russell Begaye said that “the Navajo Nation is used to historical mistreatment by agencies of the federal government” and “‘we don’t trust the EPA.'”

After the Environmental Protection Agency supplied Shiprock, NM, with water “to sustain agricultural operations and livestock after an EPA accident released a toxic plume from Gold King Mine into their natural water supply,” Russell Begaye “said he feels betrayed” that the water “appeared to be tainted with a black oily substance.” “‘We don’t trust the EPA,'” Begaye said. [Tafline Laylin, “Navajo leader feels betrayed by EPA over ‘contaminated’ water supply,” The Guardian, 08/21/15]

Russell Begaye wrote an op-ed for the Daily Caller criticizing the EPA for its “response to the Gold King Mine spill of three million gallons of toxic sludge and the resulting contamination of the Animas and San Juan rivers.” “The Navajo Nation is used to historical mistreatment by agencies of the federal government, but the inadequate and delayed response to the contamination of our rivers and the utter lack of accountability takes that sentiment to a whole new level,” Begaye wrote. [Russell Begaye, “Federal Government Lets Navajo Nation Down After EPA Mine Spill,” The Daily Caller, 11/02/15]