On August 14th, 2019, the Navajo Nation celebrated the legacy and history of the Navajo Code Talkers. The event began with a parade that took the surviving code talkers, their families and descendants into the heart of the Navajo Nation capital.
“We are here today to celebrate our traditional values but most importantly our language, and how the Navajo Nation Code Talkers are really here to bring that vision and that Navajo Nation global ambassadorship back here for one day,” said Navajo Nation Speaker Seth Damon. “I think that’s one of the most important things we can say about Navajo Code Talker Day, August 14th. Celebrate it every day. It’s recognized by two states, Arizona and New Mexico and we're trying to push for that in the State of Utah and the State of Colorado.”
Michael Smith, the coordinator of the festivities, said he was inspired to start the Navajo Code Talker events after attending the Ira Hayes Iwo Jima Flag Raising ceremony in Sacaton, Arizona. He knew then he wanted the same kind of celebration for the Navajo Code Talkers.
“When I first started this event in 2005, we had 66 Code Talkers that were living, and we had 33 men attend the event. Today, we only have five living men and we have four men here today,” said Smith, “Although President Reagan only declared that day as National Navajo Code Talker Day, the code talkers continue to celebrate it on their own.”
“As it evolved, I found out that we were educating a lot of people, not just Navajos but people across the country about the legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers and the event continues to grow. Last year, we had over 2000 people attend the event,” he said. “I just like every year, to see the spouses of the code talkers, the descendants of the code talkers and, of course, our men and it's just a good day to throw them a great party. To come out here and meet a Navajo Code Talker but also see all the booths that the descendants have put up to for their men, to honor them and to show their legacy.”
He said the all about the community coming together and celebrating the Navajo Code Talker legacy.
The event was attended by the Navajo Nation Devil Pup Program, who attended to lay the wreath at the Navajo Nation Code Talker Memorial and to honor the Navajo Code Talkers.
“We are humbled that we have this national holiday – national recognition,” said Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation Council Delegate. “Certainly, the pride that we feel is were relatives, were descendants.”
Ramona Emerson is a Diné filmmaker and writer originally from Tohatchi, New Mexico.
COVER: Navajo Code Talkers Peter MacDonald, John Kinsel and Thomas H. Begay, attend the ceremony in their honor. They are among the last living Navajo Code Talkers who served in WW II. (Photo by Ramona Emerson)