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Navajo activist Klee Benally dies at 48

Klee Benally, a Navajo man who advocated on behalf of Native issues and environmental causes, died on Saturday.

Benally died Dec. 30 at a Phoenix hospital, his sister Jeneda Benally said. He was 48. His cause of death was not disclosed.

Benally was known as an activist and musician. He was a vocal opponent of Flagstaff’s Arizona Snowbowl snowmaking at the ski resort. Thirteen tribes consider the area sacred.

In 2013, he told KJZZ that skiers confuse an adrenaline rush with the spirituality held by Native peoples about the mountain.

"That undermines our legitimate connection and deeply held beliefs we’ve held since time immemorial."

Benally also protested police violence and racial profiling. And he advocated for the cleanup of uranium mines where ore was extracted on the Navajo Nation.

He also spoke out against an ordinance that, in a bid to address the problem of homelessness, had banned camping on public property in Flagstaff.

“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.”

Benally was also guitarist for Native American punk band Blackfire.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.