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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Pride in Language
by Alastair Lee Bitsoi - Navajo Times

Since learning about the Navajo Code Talkers in their history books, eight-graders from Ch'ooshgai Community School asked to meet one.

Their wish was granted Aug. 13 when Principal Lester Hudson invited Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tso to the school for a special visit.

Not knowing what to expect, Tso made the trip to Ch'ooshgai only to find out the students were honoring him for his efforts during World War II.

The visit, which was organized by the students and their teacher, Jennifer Villareal, is in response to their curiosity of how the Navajo language was used to help American forces defeat the Japanese.

Villareal, who is originally from the Philippines, said the idea for recognizing the Navajo Code Talkers came after finding out her students knew very little about the role of these revered men and the codes they created with the Navajo language.

"Their language defines freedom and victory," Villareal said. "They should be loud and proud."

Understanding that language connects culture and tradition, Villareal was motivated to help her students understand their rich Navajo identity.

She assigned them the task to research the code talkers, and from their findings, the students became aware of the famous role these young men played in American history.

Villareal said her students felt something needed to be done to honor their new heroes, few of whom still survive, and so the celebration in honor of Tso was organized.

Tso and fellow Code Talker Keith Little's surprise visit could not have come at a better time, as it's rare that the actual players in an historically important time are available to teach its lessons to their heirs.

In front of the entire student body, Tso stood up and provided a synopsis of his war history - he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946.

Tso, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and at Nagasaki, explained the crucial role of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers.

"The first 29 developed the code that the Japanese could not break," Tso said. "When I say they cannot break it, it means they didn't know where our airplanes were, our ships were, our men were."

The codes that were developed, he said, depended heavily on the Navajo names of animals.

"We used these three types of animals for codes," Tso said, explaining that the word "Tsidii" (bird), for example, was code for "airplane."

Because Navajo had no written form at that time, Tso said memorizing the code was vital.

Much like Tso's message, Little reminded the young Navajos of the importance of learning their mother tongue.

"It's really up to you young people to learn our language," Little said, adding that the Navajo language could possibly be useful in future wars. "I found out it was very sacred, our language."

In addition to giving Tso and Little the floor, the students wrote letters thanking Tso for his military service and read a poem they wrote honoring the Navajo Code Talkers.

Beenilniih (Remember It)

The smell of smoke

The screams of fright

The price you paid

To keep us safe at night

The fights you fought

The history you made

Our Navajo ways

Are very sacred these days

The language you spoke

It will never fade

The unbreakable code gave us peace

For that take our thanks, please

We shall follow your lead

In doing good deeds

The language we cherish that comes from above

We will always love

So bury your sorrows

Remember your ways

From then and tomorrow

Forever and always ...

After reading their poem, the Ch'ooshgai students handed Tso their thank-you letters and robed him with a Pendleton blanket, and then pelted him with questions.

Eighth-grader Chamique Duboise asked, "What advice or message can you give to the younger generation?"

"Don't drop out of school," Tso replied. "Get a job or go to school."

"Were you afraid of being killed?" asked another student.

"Yes," Tso said. "I was afraid day and night. One night before Mount Suribachi was secured, I had a dream about a young Indian girl who came to me and gave me a cedar bead, and she said, 'You will come back to us.' I believed that dream day and night."

Tso said he told his comrades of his dream and said he was going home.

"I pulled out my cedar beads and they told me, 'That's a lot of horseshit,'" Tso said, adding, "Whether that's the case, it brought me home."

The students responded with loud cheers and applause.

Students from the Navajo language and culture class also performed a traditional Navajo ribbon dance and Ye'ii Bicheii dance to honor the two code talkers.

Asked how he felt about being honored by the students, Tso said the tribute made him realize how much he's appreciated as a code talker, making him feel worthwhile and alive on Mother Earth.

"I hope they will not forget this," Villareal said at the conclusion of the event, adding that the celebration marked a special day in the school's history. "Language identifies who you are."

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