Navajo Code Talkers museum and veterans center one step closer
Last updated 5/21/2018 at 2:34pm
GALLUP, N.M.-The state of New Mexico is one step closer to getting funding for a museum honoring Code Talkers, as the Senate Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously voted for a bill asking the Legislature to allocate $1 million to build a Navajo Code Talkers museum and veterans center in New Mexico, near the Arizona border.
Code Talkers served in both world wars. In World War I, people from the Cherokee and Chocktaw tribes pioneered the practice of communicating in codes based on their languages. In World War II, there were approximately 400 to 500 Native Americans in the Marine Corps alone whose primary jobs were to transmit secret tactical messages. They created codes built on their native languages and their service improved the speed of encryption of communications at both ends of front line operations.
This project is close to home for the bill's sponsor, Senator John Pinto, D-Gallup, who wants to honor the Code Talkers legacy with a museum. Pinto, the longest serving New Mexico state senator with 10 4-year terms under his belt tells the story from personal experience since the estimated 93-year-old man served with the Navajo Code Talkers in the Pacific Theater. The Code Talkers, many of whom were from New Mexico, used their native language to confound the Japanese in planning battles, calling for reinforcements and transmitting requests for food, ammunition or medicine. The Navajo Diné language, which few non-Navajos understood, was unwritten. Code strategists devised a 200-plus word code from it. Many military historians credit them with helping to win the war.
The Legislative Finance Committee's fiscal analysis of the bill says the Indian Affairs Department has concerns about the costs for design and construction, which could in turn limit money for operations and programming. The Indian Affairs Department said other funding would be necessary for the continued operation of the project.
But the $1 million that New Mexico would invest in the planned museum is just one source of funding, said Mark Freeland, a spokesman for the Navajo Nation. He said the nonprofit Navajo Code Talkers Foundation is also raising money for the project.
The 140-acre property designated for the museum was donated to the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation by the Chevron Mining company.
Some senators on the committee asked if the museum would include information on Code Talkers from other tribes and nations, including Comanches. Freeman said that is a possibility. The bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee.