Editor’s note: November is Native American Heritage Month. This is the first of four weekly stories to recognize Native contributions and achievements.
Let’s face it, America’s history is not exactly neat and tidy. When white settlers arrived in America, they realized they had a big problem: There were people already living here! Us. . .
Natives tried various tactics to deal with the European intruders. We tried talking it out, but most of the settlers were afraid of us. They called us primitive and savage people. We tried living harmoniously by signing treaties for shared land, but the U.S. government had a knack for going back on its word. Eventually, we resorted to fighting. Ultimately, we lost our fight with the European settlers, along with all our lands.
Despite the hardships, we survived. Heroes and heroines emerged. My goal is to highlight some of those heroes and heroines who have contributed to the history of the United States in honor of Native American Heritage Month. But first, some history:
On Aug. 3, 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month, thereafter commonly referred to as Native American Heritage Month. The bill read, in part, that “the president has authorized and requested to call upon federal, state and local governments, groups and organizations and the people of the United States to observe such month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.” This was a landmark bill honoring America’s tribal people.
Native American Heritage Month aims to provide a platform for Native people to share their culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance and ways and concepts of life. It also provides a forum to discuss the contributions and achievements of Native Americans to U.S. history.
Navajo Code Talkers
In U.S. history, the story of Native Americans is predominantly tragic. Settlers took their land, misunderstood their customs and killed them in the thousands.
Then, during World War II, the U.S. government needed the Navajos’ help, and though they had suffered greatly from this same government, Navajos proudly answered the call to duty.
Known as Navajo code talkers, they were young Navajo men who transmitted secret communications on the battlefield. When America’s best cryptographers were falling short, these modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful code in military history. They drew upon their proud warrior tradition to brave the dense jungles of Guadalcanal and the exposed beachheads of Iwo Jima. Serving with distinction in every major engagement of the Pacific theater, their unbreakable code played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and hastening the war’s end.
The Navajo code talkers’ operation was finally declassified by the United States in 1968, opening up the opportunity to honor the Marines who drew up and employed the “uncrackable” code.
Thirty-five Marine veteran Navajo code talkers were honored Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon. An exhibit, which includes radios, photographs and an explanation of how the code worked, was dedicated to their prowess. Howard Connor, a signal officer with the 5th Marine Division, said that day, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
In 2000, President Bill Clinton approved the Congressional Gold Medal for the original 29 World War II code talkers. Five were alive at the time, but only four could make it to Washington, D.C., in 2001, when President George W. Bush presented them with their medals.
This is our history, this is your history. Oneh.