Published on September 28, 2013 by Amy
Henry Chee Dodge (1860–1947), also known in Navajo by his nicknames Hastiin Adiitsʼaʼii (~ “Mister Interpreter”) and Kiiłchííʼ (“Red Boy”), was chairman of the Navajo Business Council from 1922 until 1928, and chairman of the then Navajo Tribal Council from 1942 until 1946. Thereafter, he became the first and only Navajo politician elected vice-president who died before being able to take office. He was the father of Thomas Dodge, who served as Tribal Council chairman from 1932 until 1936, and activist Annie Dodge Wauneka.
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Dodge was born around 1860 near Tsíhootsooí (Fort Defiance) into the Mąʼii Deeshgiizhnii clan; his father was Naakaii Dineʼé of Mexican ancestry. There is speculation that he was actually born three years earlier and that he was the son of Indian Agent Henry L. Dodge, known in Navajo as Biʼééʼ Łichííʼ.
During the Long Walk of 1864, Dodge got separated from his mother, was taken in by a family who found him wandering around as an orphan, and he was subsequently raised by his aunt. As his step-uncle was Anglo-American, the young Chee quickly became fluent in English and eventually replaced Jesus Arviso as the official Navajo interpreter to the U.S. military.
In 1883, Dodge became head of the Navajo Tribal Police, and a year later, he was appointed “Head Chief of the Navajo” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs — a position and title that had no basis in traditional Navajo concepts of governance and was presented to the people as “Tʼáá Diné Binaatʼáanii”. When he became the first chairman of the Navajo Business Council in 1922, Dodge managed to secure over one million dollars in royalties for the Navajo Nation, but caved to demands for giving oil-drilling rights to Anglo-companies. Most Navajos were unaware of the council’s existence, and its main function was to rubber-stamp the decisions of the local Indian commissioner.
In 1924, he became a citizen of the United States.
In 1942, he was elected chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council and served until 1946. During his tenure, he lobbied for improved education opportunities for Navajo children, and traveled to Washington to convince the Federal Government to secure more funding.
In the subsequent election of 1946, Dodge was chosen as vice-chairman, but died in January 1947 at the age of 86 or 87 before the sixth Tribal Council convened and he could take office; Zhealy Tso was appointed Vice-Chairman in his stead. Dodge was buried near his home in Fort Defiance.
Chee Dodge Elementary School in Yatahey, New Mexico and Chee Dodge Boulevard near Gallup are named in Dodge’s honor.