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Klee Benally, cultural advocate and land defender, dies at 48

Klee Benally, cultural advocate and land defender, dies at 48


Klee Benally died Dec. 30, 2023. He was 48.

Benally was the son of Jones and Berta Benally. Klee Benally was from Dziłyíjiin, Arizona. He was Bi’éé’ Łichíi’ii and born for Tódích’íi’nii. His maternal grandfather is Polish and Jewish, and his paternal grandfather is Naakaii Dine’é. He lived in Kinłání, where he proudly stood tall with Dook’o’oosłííd.

In his last interview with the Navajo Times on Dec. 7, Benally credited his father, a respected and known hataałii, who shared the Diné traditions and culture with him.

Klee Benally’s teachings growing up laid a foundation for who he was as a Diné and led to him fighting for the sacred Dook’o’oosłííd.

“For Diné people, it represents a part of our cosmology and being,” Benally said on Dec. 7. “Each mountain is a part of our creation account set forward for our boundaries, Diné Bikéyah, where we walk around.”

Benally described the mountains as leaders that hold and share teachings for Diné.

Countless comments from people who knew and followed Benally shared their sudden sadness but described Benally as a “one-of-a-kind” wise son, brother, uncle, or grandpa.

Along with fighting for sacred elements, Benally was an artist in many mediums, writer, musician, and filmmaker.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, Benally launched his book, “No Spiritual Surrender, Indigenous Anarchy in Defense of the Sacred,” at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Flagstaff however, the book was released in November with physical copies only available at Bookmans in Flagstaff or online at Detritus Books website.

The book delves into Benally’s experience fighting for sacred places and why he does it to protect nahasdzáán.

Benally recounted the many times he had been arrested, along with tying himself to heavy machinery to send a message that he wasn’t going anywhere for the land’s sake.

In a post shared on Benally’s Instagram page, he shares his full circle moment having done shows with his band Blackfire at the Left Bank Books Collective bookstore in Seattle, Washington, where he was able to drop a few copies of his book off at.

His music with Blackfire was fueled with the same messages he shared in his book, justice for Indigenous people and the land.

Blackfire was created in 1989 with Benally and his siblings, Jeneda and Clayson Benally.

Benally’s work reflected his dedication and understanding of fighting for land and its Indigenous peoples.

Benally was a part of many organizations working to support and fight for land like “Haul No!” and “Protect the Peaks.”

Benally worked endlessly for the community and land, which are grateful to have been protected by a dedicated Diné.


Published Dec. 31, 2023     Updated Jan. 4, 2024
A correction was made on January 4, 2024: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly Klee Benally’s date of death. Benally died Dec. 30, 2023, not Dec. 31, 2023. This article has been updated with additional information, including dóone’é, his clans.

About The Author

Kianna Joe

Kianna Joe is Bit’ahnii and born for Kinyaa’áanii. She was born in Gallup. She received first place for best editorial in the student division for the 2022 National Media Awards. She is now an intern for the Navajo Times, covering matters in the Phoenix Valley while attending school at Arizona State University.


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