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Navajo Code Talkers to Get High Honors

DECEMBER 19, 2000

Part 1 of 2


The Navajo Code Talkers will finally receive a long-overdue recognition when they are awarded Congressional medals of honor.

The budget bill approved by Congress last Friday includes a provision to award gold medals of honor to the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. Silver medals would be awarded to those who followed in the footsteps of the original, who numbered over 300.

Using the Dine language, the Code Talkers developed an unbreakable code used by the United States to help win World War II. Their code helped save lives of other American soldiers at the battles of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa, among others.

The Code Talkers project, along with similar ones involving the Hopi and Choctaw languages, had been kept under wraps by the government well after the war ended. When the project was declassified in 1968, the American public learned of the role American Indian soldiers played in the war.

But while accolades have poured in from the rest of the country, the government itself was slow to recognize the Code Talkers' actions with such a high designation as a medal of honor. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.Mex) helped bring the issue to the table during this year's Congressional sessions.

His proposal received initial approval in the Senate's defense authorization bill in June, and after stalling in the House, it emerged as part of the huge spending bill passed on Friday. Clinton lauded the passage of the bill and it awaits his signature.

Interest in the Code Talkers and their story has picked up in recent years. Two competing movies are currently in production involving the Code Talkers.

The Code Talkers were also honored with a Living Legends award at the Third Annual Native American Music Awards.

On Veterans Day, three representatives from the Navajo Code Talkers Associated accepted the award on behalf of the others, many of whom have now passed on.

The gold and silver medals of honor will be given to a family member of the Code Talkers who have died.


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Navajo Codetalker Stonewalled

Code Talker being ‘stonewalled’ from Biah Yazzie Seminole va_aim@yahoo.com

I am writing this open letter on behalf of a World War II veteran, Marine Navajo Code Talker, and Iwo Jima combat war hero, who is my friend.

He has been, in my view and understanding, denied access to the courts, ignored and prevented from finding resolution to a serious situation that impacts him and his whole family.

His name is Teddy Draper, Sr. He is a traditional Navajo who farms a small patch of land in Canyon Del Muerto and on the canyon rim, near Chinle, Ariz. He also teaches Navajo Language part time through the local school districts.

He is the elder of a large extended family, which in the scope of the Navajo Culture, and the philosophy of caring and sharing, keeps him a man of very modest means.

His problem is partly due to the Navajo way of caring and sharing, combined with what I view as blind missionary zeal on the reservation. It revolves around Mr. Draper’s traditional grazing rights, which he applied for and received for a specified area on Canyon Del Muerto rim soon after returning from the Marine Corps at the end of WW II.

Soon after this, a Presbyterian Mission was founded on the western edge of the land in question. Since then, the mission has exploded into a community, which is now called Del Muerto. This community, due to the above stated philosophy and zeal, has grown into Mr. Draper’s land, nearly bisecting it and diminishing it’s useful area by over one third. Thus impacting Mr. Draper’s ability to earn a living.

Since then I have written many letters on this subject for Mr. Draper. I have written to state representatives, the attorney general of the Navajo Tribe, the office of the Navajo tribal president, to all of the tribal council members ? and have been “stonewalled” every time.

So much time has gone by, and so many have intruded onto his land, that he realizes it would be near impossible to get his land back, and this is not what he has asked.

He is simply trying to petition legal authorities to intervene, stop the continued intrusion, compensate him for the loss of land and protect him from future intrusion. This doesn’t sound like and impossible task, but he has been unable to get his day in court, or any resolution for over 55 years.

I spoke with a friend who is a retired attorney, and he told me that it would be difficult to find an attorney that would take the case due to the problems with these kinds of cases in tribal courts. I t would be very expensive and nearly impossible to win in view of the years that have gone by the authorities. And there is nothing that would prevent the continued ignoring of the problem until Mr. Draper passes on, when it will no longer be an issue.

This is why I have written this open letter. Mr. Draper has heroically served his country in the second world war, and continues to serve his community above and beyond the call of a man in his eighties. He needs to experience the justice that is due to him after so many years of frustration. He is frustrated and tired. He needs some help beyond my meager abilities in his struggle.

So I ask all of you who read this letter, if you know of or have resource that could be a means to a resolution to Mr. Draper’s plight that you consider helping him.

John Renbourne







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