- By Elyse Wild
Diné activist and musician Klee Benally walked on on the morning of December 31, 2023. He was 48 years old.
Benally died at a Phoenix hospital on Saturday. His cause of death has not been disclosed.
Benally was a long-time passionate advocate for a number of issues affecting Native peoples. He spoke out against police violence and, in 2014, joined other activists outside of metro Phoenix’s NFL stadium to denounce the offensive team name previously used by the franchise from Washington, D.C.
Benally advocated for the cleanup of abandoned mines, where uranium ore was extracted from the Navajo Nation over decades to support U.S. nuclear activities during the Cold War. He protested an ordinance that banned camping on public property in Flagstaff aimed at the area’s homeless population.
“There is no compassionate way to enforce the anti-camping ordinance,” Benally said in 2018 when officials declined to alter the 2005 ordinance. “Life is already hard enough for our unsheltered relatives on the streets.”
According to a report from the Navajo Times, Benally was from Dziłyíjiin, Arizona. He was from the Tódích’íi’nii and Wandering People clans.
Benally grew up being taught traditional Navajo culture by his father, Jones Benally, a well-known, hataałii (medicine man).
On November 18, Benally published his book, “No Spiritual Surrender: Indigenous Anarchy in Defense of the Sacred,” described as a searing anti-colonial analysis rooted in his experience fighting for sacred places and why he does it to protect nahasdzáán (Mother Earth).
Benally’s family posted on the Facebook page Indigenous Action announcing his death: “We are profoundly sad to announce the departure of Klee Benally, Indigenous land defender, agitator, warrior, artist and child of Mother Earth.”
A formal announcement with details of a celebration in honor of Benally’s life is expected in the coming days.
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