Tribute for Code Talkers debated
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 2, 2007
Six decades after World War II ended, state lawmakers want to honor the Navajo
Marines who used their language to create secret codes to foil Japanese enemies.
However, some people say proposals to fund a Navajo Code Talkers state monument
and recommend a commemorative stamp marginalize similar wartime contributions
from other tribes.
"We feel our tribe is also entitled to recognition of our Code Talkers,"
said Philip Quochytewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe who told a Senate committee
recently that his uncle was a Code Talker. By a close margin Thursday, state
senators quashed a proposal that would have included all Native American Code
Talkers in a commemorative postage stamp and instead chose to honor just
Navajos' roles as Code Talkers are well-documented and more widely known than
those of other tribes.
For example, all Arizona fourth-graders in October received The Unbreakable
Code, a book in which a Navajo Code Talker teaches his grandson about his
mission. One proposed design for Arizona's state quarter features Navajo Code
Talkers. And in 2002, Hollywood released Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage,
which tells the story of Navajo Code Talkers.
Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said he grew up in Arizona and heard about other
tribal Code Talkers only last year. He voted against including other tribes in
"This honor goes to the Navajos," Flake said.
As many as 400 Navajos are reported to have served as Code Talkers. Their
operation was much larger than those conducted with members of other tribes.
Keith Little, of Crystal, N.M., served as a Navajo Code Talker, but he said he
could not talk about his role until the operation was declassified in 1968.
"We were never recognized and kept silent for many years because of the
secrecy," but now "we would like to have our legacy remembered," he said.
"The Navajo Code Talkers served in the United States Marine Corps for America
and for the world with integrity," Little told a state Senate committee
Zonnie Gorman, who said her father was a Navajo Code Talker, researches her
tribe members' code contributions and is documenting their efforts.
She said the Navajo Marines based the unbroken code on the Navajo language, but
it was formed in such a way that not even a Navajo speaker would understand what
was being said.
The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which does not represent the Navajo Nation,
wrote a letter to lawmakers asking that the commemorative stamp recommendation
recognize all Native American Code Talkers, specifically including Hopis.
Sen. Meg Burton Cahill, D-Tempe, asked her fellow senators to include all Native
Americans in the stamp; otherwise, she said, it would be "historically
"There were Native Americans from many tribes who contributed to this," she
Burton Cahill's proposal on Thursday failed, 15-13. Sen. Albert Hale, D-Window
Rock, is Navajo, and he opposed Burton-Cahill's proposal.
Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, said he planned to work with the Hopi
Tribe next year to create a separate honor.
Of the Navajos, he said: "This honor is long overdue."
In a committee hearing, Flake described the controversy as an "unfortunate
"To me, 'Code Talkers' belongs to the Navajos," he said. "They're the ones who
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