Navajo leadership responds to MacDonald commutation

WINDOW ROCK—On Jan. 20, 2001, the Navajo Nation leadership learned that then-President William J. Clinton commuted the sentences of 36 individuals. Among those who received clemency is Peter MacDonald, Sr., former Chairman of the Navajo Nation. Clinton’s actions ended Mr. McDonald’s 14-year sentence on federal charges.

In 1995, the Navajo Nation Council passed a resolution requesting then-President Clinton to pardon Mr. MacDonald. In the same resolution, the Navajo Nation Council pardoned the former tribal leader of numerous Navajo Nation criminal convictions. With the release of Mr. MacDonald, the intent of that resolution has been realized.

As authorized by the Navajo Nation Council, President Kelsey A. Begaye and Vice President Taylor McKenzie, M.D., spearheaded the efforts for the release of Mr. MacDonald.

President Begaye said, “We took advantage of every opportunity to press the issue of releasing Mr. MacDonald with federal and state leaders. We are thankful for the many Members of Congress, lobbyists and private citizens, who supported the campaign on behalf of Mr. MacDonald. Although we cannot thank all here we would like to thank Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Johnston & Assoc. of Washington, D.C.”

President Begaye further commented, “The Navajo Nation is pleased that former-President Clinton looked at the humanitarian issue for the commutation of Mr. MacDonald’s sentence.”

Vice President McKenzie said, “It is great news and I am positive his family is grateful for the action of former-President Clinton.” The Vice President commented on the efforts of the Navajo Nation saying, “There were many office visits in Washington, D.C., New Mexico and Arizona, numerous telephone calls and many documents produced in our effort to have Mr. MacDonald released.”

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Edward T. Begay said, “The Navajo Nation Council took the first step in 1995 to pardon Mr. MacDonald and it is good to hear that former-President Clinton evaluated the release of Mr. MacDonald in his last hours in office. The Navajo Nation went through tremendous turmoil in 1989 and the Navajo people learned a difficult, but important, lesson as a result regarding the importance of the rule of law. And that lesson is that there are consequences if one breaks the law. Elected Navajo Nation officials hold a sacred trust given to us by the Navajo People and if we violate that trust, we will be held responsible.”

The Navajo Nation leaders agreed that it is now a time for healing. President Begaye said, “It is my plea to the Navajo people that we continue to move forward as a Nation, and to respect one another.”

Speaker Begay added, “The Navajo justice system took its course, and, while there are consequences for one’s action, if one is truly sorry, forgiveness sets in.”

Although the Navajo Nation at one time pursued a pardon for the former tribal leader, President Clinton issued a commutation of Mr. MacDonald’s federal charges and sentence. The commutation leaves the federal convictions intact but allows Mr. MacDonald to be released after serving seven years of his 14-year sentence, while leaving intact and in effect the remaining portions of the sentences.

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