Henry Chee Dodge

Navajo political leader
Born: 1857?
Birthplace: Fort Defiance, Ariz.

The identity of Dodge's father is uncertain, but he may have been a white Indian agent or Army officer. His mother was a Navajo-Jemez Indian who was killed during a campaign led by Kit Carson against the Navajos in 1864. The survivors, including Dodge, were forced to walk hundreds of miles from northeast Arizona to northwest New Mexico, where they were confined on the Bosque Redondo Reservation at Fort Sumner. In 1868 Dodge returned to Fort Defiance with his adopted Navajo family.

After attending the Fort Defiance Indian School, Dodge found work as an official interpreter for the Navajo Agency at Fort Defiance. Later he translated for the ethnographer Washington Matthews and helped write two of his classic works on the Navajos, Navajo Legends (1897) and The Night Chant (1901). In addition to his interpretive abilities, Dodge was also known for his skill in diplomacy, and he was often called in to mediate territorial disputes between Navajos and white settlers in the region. In 1884 Navajo agent Dennis Riordan named Dodge chief of the Navajo police force and, a short time later, head chief of the Navajo tribe.

Although the Navajo were at first reluctant to have Dodge as their chief—he was not a full-blooded Navajo and he had been chosen by a U.S. government representative—Dodge eventually won the confidence of his people, serving as a bridge between the white world and the traditional world of the Navajo. In 1890 Dodge opened a trading post on the Navajo Reservation with a white partner, Stephen E. Aldrich. He also built up a successful livestock business.

In 1923 Dodge became the first chairman of the Navajo Tribal council, a position he held until 1929. He served as chairman a second time, from 1942 until his death in 1947. Throughout this period, he dominated Navajo politics. At his death he was survived by five of his six children, including Tom Dodge, who also became tribal chairman. His daughter, Annie Dodge Wauneka, became the first woman elected to the Navajo Tribal Council, and in 1963 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts to improve health care and education on the reservation.

Died: Jan. 7, 1947

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