Summertime travel brings many alumni to Abilene Christian University, such as those dropping off and picking up youngsters for summer camp, or those who stop to visit campus on their way to other places. Recently, one of the latter was Dr. Joe Shirley Jr. (’73), former president of the Navajo Nation, and one of his daughters, Barbara.
Shirley served two consecutive terms (2003-11) as president of the largest Native American tribe. He has returned to office as a supervisor of Apache County, Ariz., a role he previously filled in a long career of public service before being elected president.
With 11,218 square miles, Apache County is the sixth largest in the U.S.
Tribal law precludes anyone from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms at a time, but Shirley says there is growing support for him to run once the term of current president Ben Shelley – his former vice president – ends in 2015. Shirley was only the sixth elected president in Navajo Nation history, and the first to serve two terms. Prior to 1991, the Navajo Nation Council was ruled by a chairman.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from ACU, with minors in Bible and English, and a master’s degree in social work from Arizona State University. He received ACU’s Distinguished Alumni Citation in 2007.
Shirley served on the Navajo Nation Council from 1986-99, including as chair of the Labor and Manpower Committee, the Advisory Committee, the Tax Commission, and the Ethics and Rules Committee. In 1996, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties in Washington D.C., which represents more than 3,000 counties throughout the U.S. In 1997, he served as a member of the Advisory Committee to the President’s Commission of Sustainable Communities in Washington, D.C., and from 1985-91, was a member of the Public Lands Committee. He was appointed by Native American leaders to co-chair the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Budget Advisory Council and the Sovereign Protection Initiative.