Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Sacred Navajo Language: One of Sacrifice and Strength

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I could feel the early morning warmth from the bright sun, as I gazed at the puffy white cotton-top clouds floating along a vast blue sky, it was a seemingly normal summer morning or so I thought.  As we were driving towards the fairgrounds the streets were lined with cars, people were milling about and approximately a dozen protestors were standing on the corner with signs regarding the Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River.  Frankly, it’s a good thing I wasn’t driving; the massive sandstone rock jutting 200 feet in the air was directly in front of me and it had completely captured my attention…I was in awe of Holy Mother Earth, as usual....  


I was in the township of Window Rock, Arizona, and oh-so-ready for another new adventure; with no idea of what to expect, no idea of what the day would bring or how it would unfold.  With my ever-trusty smart-phone camera handy, I was anxious to meet new faces, make new friends, and immerse myself into the Navajo culture.  I was going to an event intended to honor the 430 Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, who used their native language as the basis of a cipher (code) that confounded the Japanese military during WW II.  On August 14, 1945, Japan announced that it had officially surrendered to the Allies.  In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day.  In 2000, President Bill Clinton rightfully awarded the original 29 Navajo code talkers with the Congressional Gold Medal and other Code Talkers with the Congressional Silver Medal. Finally their sacrifice was acknowledged.  


Without question, it was the sacred Navajo language that won the war, not guns, nor missiles or big-bad tanks. As the story goes, Mr. Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos grew up on the reservation and spoke the language fluently. As a WWI Veteran, he was aware of the military’s search for a “cipher”. He organized a simulation where it was determined the Code Talkers could encode, transmit and decode an English message in 20 seconds compared to 30 minutes with the machines of that era. The strength of the Navajo language is obvious in this respect.   


Arizona Senator John D. McCain (R) was on hand to throw his support behind a new Musuem for the Code Talkers.  Mr. McCain has recently received criticism for his role in passing the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange bill as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.  The law allows for the sale of the Oak Flat campground to international mining company, Rio Tinto. Oak Flat is sacred to Native American tribes and critical for religious freedom.    


As a Speaker, I promote and encourage Women's Empowerment; it was my pleasure to meet the Blue Bird Pinup Girls.  They are an incredible group of modern, confident, and empowered Native American women dedicated to assisting and bringing their Indigenous people together. They host, network, and promote events that foster positive change and direction through fun community events, charity work, and support of Native American businesses and organizations. With a “We Can Do It” attitude, they boost morale through support of wonderful causes that positively reinforce and uplift. 


Sitting next to me was this beautiful lady, a Mom, who does amazing beadwork...She told me it took her about an hour to make these earrings.  She was gracious enough to let me snap her photo. The talent of Native Americans is an amazing sight to behold. I asked a Navajo friend why was it that the Indigenous People were so talented?  It was gently pointed out to me that they have always had to take care of themselves. They learned self-sufficiency through necessity, and handed down their traditions to each generation. 


And of course, Miss Navajo Nation was on hand!  She was one of the nicest young ladies I've met in many a moon.  She listened patiently as I told her where I was from, "Hello-Austin Texas", and of my interest in the current social, cultural, and economic issues facing the Navajo people today.  I hope to lend my voice and my writings in support of the resilient and proud Navajo tribe, who have sacrificed much, and not just in WWII.  I've much to learn, but I am willing and I am sincere.  As a freelance Writer and a Public Speaker, the doors are wide open for me to pursue that endeavor.  

Windtalkers There were quite of few dignitaries present; Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation President, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay, to name just a few. The Code Talkers were referred to as legends who altered the course of world history. There were invocations, prayers and songs presented in the Navajo language, it was touching for many of those in the audience who do speak and understand Navajo. I thought it was so pure and so beautiful, no further elaboration is necessary. You had to be there to experience the spirtual nature of the Day in honor and pride for the Code Talkers, I do hope you will attend one day!  


The most touching and memorable speakers were USMC Brigadier General Daniel D.Yoo, and Navajo Code Talker Peter MacDonald Sr.  No one had a dry eye when Bill Toledo, Navajo Code Talker, sang the Marine Corps Hymn in Navajo.  No. One.   

Windtalkers After everyone spoke, Joe Tohonnie, Jr. (who is Apache and Navajo) and the Apache Crown Dancers performed!  I am certain my jaw hit the ground, I was mezmerized, and thought I had been transported into the past of a time long-ago and long-gone.  With the drum beating, the Crown Dancers in full dance regalia, and Mr. Tohonnie singing in Apache, it was easy for my imagination to take over...I envisioned being in the mountains, surrounded by tall pine trees, a dark moonless-night, a huge fire burning bright, and the Dancers circling around and around chasing away evil spirits. It was simply magicial and fabulously's the stuff dreams are made of!  


 Although I am not Navajo, I did not feel as though I was an outsider looking in.  I felt welcomed with open arms and big hearts. The families of the Code Talkers were proud to share with me their stories and were ever-gracious in their manner.  I met an elderly Grandmother who told me the story of her Brother and how she misses him still after all these years.  I felt truly blessed to have been invited to be there and to share in such a wonderful celebration.  Thank-you to my dear Navajo friend for making it possible for me to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I will be forever grateful.   



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