Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and a resume that includes serving in Congress and in the Clinton administration as United Nations ambassador, succeeding Madeleine Albright, and then secretary of energy, died in his sleep Friday in his summer home in Chatham Massachusetts. He turned 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 wrongly held abroad,” Bergman said. “There was not a person that Governor Richardson would not speak to if it was a promise to bring someone back to freedom. The world has lost a champion to those wrongfully detained abroad, and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”
US Secretary of the Interior 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 account (formerly Twitter):
“I am saddened to learn that former NM Governor Bill Richardson has passed away. He was a champion for tribes and raised Indian Affairs to cabinet level. He helped me ensure that Indigenous students received an education in the state. He was a true friend and one of our country’s esteemed diplomats.”
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) issued the following statement in response to Governor Richardson’s passing:
“Governor Bill Richardson believed that New Mexico could do great things. His ambition for our state meant that he never accepted mediocrity and always pushed us to fight for the future we deserved. I had the privilege of serving in his government and will be forever grateful for all he taught me. Governor Richardson’s legacy will have a lasting impact on the United States and the world, as it has 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 todaymanaged projects that benefited Navajo citizens for Richardson.
“As a long-standing advocate for the Navajo people, Richardson established the Gov. Bill Richardson/President Peterson Zah Covid Relief Fund in April 2020 to help bring essential supplies and equipment to the Navajo Nation to help with the COVID-19 pandemic fight,” Taliman said Indigenous news online on Saturday afternoon.
The aid was badly needed as the Navajo nation was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 31,000 Navajo citizens contracting the virus and more than 2,000 deaths.
The Fund made donations to Navajo Nation hospitals, contributed to the salary of a respiratory physician, provided a fund for funeral assistance, and provided more than 1,200 pairs of Nike athletic shoes to low-income Navajo students in New Mexico communities.
“The Navajo people and our communities in New Mexico have suffered heavy losses, but we continue to work to help the Navajo nation overcome this pandemic,” said Governor Richardson. “We must all work together to protect our families, and I am grateful to many friends and donors who have contributed to the Fund so we can do more.”
Richardson learned from the Navajo Nation Police and teachers that Navajo children needed shoes during the closure of the 27,000-square-mile reservation. The Fund partnered with the Navajo golfer Notah Bega III NB3 Foundation to get a 50 percent discount and bought 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 delegates from the Navajo Nation Council, the Cherokee Nation, school and police officials, and Navajo shoe designer Lacey Trujillo of Fruitland, New Mexico, who designs shoes for tennis superstars Raphael Nadal, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka at the Nike World Headquarters. Trujillo helped select shoes and contributed to the project. Through the Richardson Center, donors can contribute to this project for Navajo children in need.
In addition to his much-needed work in the Indian Country in recent years, Richardson devoted his time to the practice of quasi-public diplomacy, visited North Korea several times to secure the release of Americans imprisoned there, and conducted other humanitarian missions . For 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 in honor of his work and dedication to the safe return of political prisoners and hostages around the world.
About the author: “Levi \”Calm Before the Storm\” Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded the Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print\/ category online 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].”
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