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Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and a resume that included serving in Congress and in the Clinton administration as United Nations ambassador, succeeding Madeleine Albright, and then as secretary of energy, died in his sleep Friday at his summer home in Chatham Massachusetts. He was 75 years old.

His death was announced by Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center.

“Governor Richardson passed away peacefully in his sleep last night,“ Bergman said. “He lived his entire life in the service of others – including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Bergman said. “There was no person that Governor Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”

President Joe Biden said Richardson wore many weigthy titles in his life – Congressman, Governor, Ambassador, Secretary. 

"He seized every chance to serve and met every new challenge with joy, determined to do the most good for his country, his beloved New Mexico, and Americans around the world. Few have served our nation in as many capacities or with as much relentlessness, creativity, and good cheer. He will be deeply missed," President Biden said. "Bill and I crossed paths for the first time decades ago, when he was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I served on as Senator. Over the years, I saw firsthand his passion for politics, love for America, and unflagging belief that, with respect and good faith, people can come together across any difference, no matter how vast."

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), who interacted with Richardson in her home state of New Mexico while involved in Democratic party politics, posted on her X (formerly Twitter) account:

“I’m sad to hear of former NM Gov Bill Richardson’s passing. He was a champion for Tribes, elevating Indian Affairs to a cabinet level. He helped me ensure Native students received in-state tuition. He was a true friend and one of our country's valued diplomats.”

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said Governor Richardson has always been a champion for the Navajo people ever since he ran for Congress and for governor of the state. 

"Even after his politcal career, he always came back and gave to the Navajo people," President Nygren said to Native News Online. "He always reminded me that the Navajo people got him to his first official political office as a US representative, and he was forever grateful to the Navajo people for believing in him in his early years."

Nygren said he and Richardson were co-commencement speakers last December. 

"I am very thankful to have had some small discussions with him during my time as a president-elect, and when we were both co- commencement speakers. I’m forever grateful for his leadership, not only to the Navajo Nation but to the state of New Mexico and  America." Nygren said.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) released the following statement in response to the passing of Gov. Richardson:

“Governor Bill Richardson believed New Mexico could do big things. His ambition for our state meant he never accepted mediocrity, and always pushed us to fight for the future we deserved. I was privileged to serve in his administration and will forever be grateful for all that he taught me. Governor Richardson’s legacy will have a lasting impact on the United States and the world, as it already has had on me and so many others. Julie and I have the Richardson family in our thoughts.”

In recent years–especially during the COVID-19 pandemic–Valerie Taliman (Navajo), former editor at Indian Country Today, managed projects that benefited Navajo citizens for Richardson.

“As a longtime supporter of Navajo people, Richardson established the Gov.Bill Richardson/President Peterson Zah Covid Relief Fund in April 2020 to aid in getting essential supplies and equipment to the Navajo Nation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Taliman said to Native News Online on Saturday afternoon.

The assistance was much needed because the Navajo Nation was severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with over 31,000 Navajo citizens contracting the virus and over 2,000 deaths.

The Fund donated to Navajo Nation hospitals, contributed to a respiratory physician’s salary, provided a fund for burial assistance, and delivered more than 1,200 pairs of Nike athletic shoes to low-income Navajo students in New Mexico communities.  

“The Navajo people and our New Mexico communities suffered some tough losses, but we continue working to help the Navajo Nation overcome this pandemic,” Gov. Richardson said. “It takes all of us working together to protect our families, and I'm grateful to many friends and donors who contributed to the Fund so we can do more.” 

Richardson heard from Navajo Nation Police and teachers that Navajo children needed shoes during the lockdown on the 27,000 sq.-mile reservation.  The Fund worked with Navajo golfer Notah Begay III NB3 foundation to secure 50 percent discounts and purchased shoes for students in Crownpoint, Wingate, Torreon, Red Lake, Manuelito, Shiprock, Sheep Springs, Tohatchi, Sawmill, Fort Defiance, Crystal, Lake Valley, Albuquerque and Thoreau.The Fund also provided shoes for children in two orphanages. 

Governor Richardson worked closely with Navajo Nation Council delegates, the Cherokee Nation, school and police officials, and Navajo shoe designer Lacey Trujillo from Fruitland, New Mexico who designs shoes for tennis superstars Raphael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka at Nike World Headquarters. Trujillo helped select shoes and contributed to the project.

In addition to his much needed work in Indian Country in recent years, Richardson devoted his time practicing quasi-public diplomacy, visiting North Korea several times to secure the release of Americans detained there and conducting other humanitarian missions. Two years, he won the release of Danny Fenster, an American journalist, from a prison in Myanmar.

Last month, Senators Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján nominated Governor Richardson for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize to honor his work and dedication to the safe return of political prisoners and hostages around the world.

Navajo Technical University Provost Dr. Colleen W. Bowman reminisced that even though Richardson worked so hard for world peace, he never forgot about his state or the Navajo Nation.

“The world has lost a wonderful advocate for world peace. Gov. Richardson will forever be remembered for his active and meaningful service to many including to Navajo Technical University. No matter how far he journeyed throughout the world, he always remembered to return home to New Mexico and to the Navajo Nation," Bowman said."Our hearts are saddened by this profound loss and the university sends sincerest condolences to his loved ones. Navajo Techinical University will always remember the Governor for his commitment to help students and families in Indian Country. Rest in eternal peace Strong Warrior. You have completed your journey.” 





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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].