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04-29-04, 05:05 PM
Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers
Last year, I introduced the bill, "Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers Act," which was signed into law on December 22, 2000. It authorizes the President of the United States to award a gold medal, on behalf of the Congress, to each of the original twentynine Navajo Code Talkers, as well as a silver medal to each man who later qualified as a Navajo Code Talker. These medals are to express recognition by the United States of America and its citizens of the Navajo Code Talkers who distinguished themselves in performing a unique, highly successful communications operation that greatly assisted in saving countless lives and in hastening the end of World War II in the Pacific theater.
It has taken too long to properly recognize these soldiers, whose achievements have been obscured by twin veils of secrecy and time. As they approach the final chapter of their lives, it is only fitting that the nation pay them this honor. That's why I introduced this legislation to salute these brave and innovative Native Americans, to acknowledge the great contribution they made to the Nation at a time of war, and to finally give them their rightful place in history.
With each new successive generation of Americans, blessed as we are in this time of relative peace and prosperity, it is easy to forget what the world was like in the early 1940's. The United States was at war in Europe, and on December 7, 1941, we were faced with a second front as the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor.
One of the intelligence weapons the Japanese military possessed was an elite group of welltrained English speaking soldiers, used to intercept U.S. communications, then sabotage the message or issue false commands to ambush American troops. Military code became more and more complex at Guadalcanal, military leaders complained that it took two and onehalf hours to send and decode a single message.
After being convinced of the possibility of success by the son of a missionary who was raised on the Navajo reservation, the Marine Corps called upon the Navajo Nation to support the military effort by recruiting and enlisting Navajo men to serve as Marine Corps Radio Operators. These Navajo Marines, who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers, used the Navajo language to develop a unique code to communicate military messages in the South Pacific. The code developed by these Native Americans proved unbreakable and was used throughout the Pacific theater.
Their accomplishment was even more heroic given the cultural context in which they were operating. Subjected to alienation in their own homeland and discouraged from speaking their own language, they still stepped forward and developed the most significant and successful military code of the time.
The Code was so successful that military commanders credited it with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and the successful engagements of the U.S. in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima." Major Connor had six Navajo Code Talkers working around the clock during the first 48hours of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.
In fact, the code was so successful that the Department of Defense kept the Code secret for 23 years after the end of World War II, when it was finally declassified in 1968 and there lies the foundation of the problem.
If their achievements had been hailed at the conclusion of the war, proper honors would have been bestowed at that time. But the Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy, an oath they kept and honored, but at the same time, one that robbed them of the very accolades and place in history they so rightly deserved. Their ranks include veterans of Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa; they gave their lives at New Britain, Bougainville, Guam, and Peleliu. But, at the end of the war, these unsung heroes returned to their homes on buses no parades, no fanfare, no special recognition for what they had truly accomplished because while the war was over, their duty their oath of secrecy continued. When the secrecy surrounding the code was finally declassified, only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans begin to emerge.
Through the presentation of this distinguished award, the Congress expresses the gratitude of an entire nation to these brave and innovative veterans for their contributions and sacrifice in the struggle for freedom and democracy. After long last, we may finally mark that place in history so long overdue the Navajo Code Talkers.
Public Law No. 106-554, signed by the President on 21 December 2000. The bill was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2001.

27 Jun 44 Photog: Szarka
Two Indian Marine observers on hill overlooking Garapan while manning their observation post. Pfc. Jack Nez of Fort Defiance, Ariz. and Pfc. Carl Gorman of Chinle, Ariz.

04-29-04, 05:58 PM
In the beginning, this place was only darkness and water until the time when a woman fell from the sky world. Water creatures dwelling here, concerned for the woman's safety, created this land as a platform for the woman with turtle agreeing to hold the land upon his back, which became known as Mother Earth.
Thus begins the ancient Oneida creation story, expressing the Oneidas' understanding of how they came into this world. The creation story continues explaining that the woman who had fallen was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, who in turn would eventually bear twin sons and die in childbirth. The twins exhibited polarities of character -- one was Dark Minded, the other of the Good Mind. From the daughter's body grew the corn, beans and squash, which are known as the sustainers of life.
The twins eventually battled and the Good Minded twin was victorious. The Dark Minded twin had favored the nomadic way of life, moving with the seasons -- hunting and gathering wild foods. The introduction and cultivation of corn replaced the nomadic way of life.
Archeological studies suggest that native peoples have lived in Oneida County for approximately 10,000 years -- first, as hunters and gatherers, later establishing permanent settlements in villages. Their homes were longhouses made from bark about 20 feet wide and 100 feet or more in length.Oneida County is filled with reminders of its namesake. Numerous streets, businesses and villages bear the proud name of "Oneida". But who are the Oneida or Onyotaa:ka -- the People of the Standing Stone? They have lived in this area since time immemorial and have been good neighbors, friends and allies. Oneida soldiers served in all of the wars with the United States from then up to this day. From the formation of the United States to the present day, Oneidas have played a major role in the county's and country's development.
Members of the Oneida Indian Nation have inhabited the lands comprising Oneida County and beyond for millennia. The Nation's ancestral land in New York State reached from the St. Lawrence River in the north to what is now the Pennsylvania border to the south. Together with the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora, the Oneida Nation was a part of the Iroquois Confederacy -- or more properly in the Oneida language, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois is of French derivation and has a negative connotation to many Haudenosaunee people.)
The confederacy was formed centuries ago when the Peacemaker brought his message of unity to the disparate nations, creating the most famous Native American government on the continent. The confederacy had a profound affect upon colonial American history, greatly influencing the founding fathers of the United States. It is recorded that the principles of the confederacy attracted the colonial leaders because it posed as a model for a confederation which respected its members' independence while simultaneously promoting justice and equal rights for all.
The Peacemaker, who was accompanied by Hiawatha and with his aid urged the nations to be joined in cooperation, also brought the message the Haudenosaunee refer to as the Great Law. Under the Great Law of Peace, the nations became of one blood -- addressing one another as family members. Chiefs of the nations became members of the Confederacy's deliberative assembly.
Through the tenets of the Great Law, members of each Nation were divided into clans which are determined matrilineally. The Oneida Nation has three clans, Bear, Turtle, and Wolf. Leaders of each clan are nominated by the women of each clan, and then presented to and approved by all the Nation's clans. In the 1600s, when the Europeans first began to penetrate Oneida lands, the Nation sought peaceful co-existence, as the Great Law requires. Europeans were originally hoping to find gold, silver, spices or sugar -- items not indigenous to the region. Beaver pelts, however, were readily available, and highly sought after in Europe for hats. The Oneidas, and other Haudenosaunee, began trading the pelts and other furs for brass kettles, spun cloth and iron tools.
Due to these interactions, a Covenant Chain was forged between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch and later the British, which was an alliance based upon mutual respect, defense and trade.
But the peace was to prove short-lived, as the disgruntled colonists sought to extricate themselves from British rule. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras allied themselves with the colonists while the other members of the Confederacy sided with the British. The Oneidas were the first allies to the colonists' cause.
Oneidas fought bravely at major battles of the Revolutionary War. One of the bloodiest battles took place in present day Oneida County, the Battle of Oriskany. This battle was to prove decisive in the outcome of the war. On Aug. 6, 1777, under the command of Gen. Herkimer, a large group of Oneidas and the colonial militia were able to stop the advance of a British expeditionary force marching from the Great Lakes under Gen. St. Leger, who was attempting to move east and join Gen. Burgoyne and his forces, who were marching south from Canada. If the two forces had united, they could have successfully divided the colonies in half.
However, this union was not to be. While more than 500 people died in the opening volley of the battle, and Gen. Herkimer would meet his demise, the battle was considered a military victory for the colonists. The Oneidas and colonists prevented the British forces from joining, a pivotal event that contributed to Burgoyne's loss at the Battle of Saratoga.
Several Oneidas distinguished themselves on that August day, among them Han Yerry. This Oneida man fought valiantly, even after withstanding an injury. With the aid of his wife -- who loaded his gun -- Han Yerry continued to shoot at the enemy. His wife, one of his sons and his half-brother also fought with valor. Han Yerry died as a result of the battle, but his wife escaped and spread the word of the terrible slaughter. Although the colonists were defeated at Oriskany, with the help of the Oneidas, they ultimately won the campaign. They, and their colonial allies, are honored at the Oriskany Battlefield Historic Site located on Rte. 69 near the Village of Oriskany just east of Rome. But, this was not an isolated instance of Oneida valor during the War of Independence.
In the treacherous winter of 1777-78, George Washington's troops were freezing and starving at their encampment at Valley Forge. Oneida Chief Skenandoah and several other Oneidas carried 600 bushels of corn to aid their colonial allies. They were accompanied by an Oneida woman, Polly Cooper, who taught Washington's starving soldiers how to properly prepare the corn. Because she would not accept payment, a shawl and a bonnet were given to her as tokens of appreciation for her kindness by Martha Washington. The shawl remains a major treasure of the Oneida Nation today and in recent years, has been on display at least once each year at the Nation's Shako:wi Cultural Center on Rte. 46 in Oneida.
Because of their allegiance to the colonists, the Oneidas suffered retribution from the other members of the Confederacy after the war. In 1779, the Oneida fortress, which was a principal village at what now is Oneida Castle, was destroyed. The Oneidas had to seek food and shelter elsewhere in the Mohawk Valley. They endured great suffering living as virtual refugees, until they ultimately returned to their homeland in 1784.
Ten years later, through the paramount 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, the Oneidas received special protection for their lands, which included many acres in Oneida County and continued recognition of the Nation's sovereignty. The Oneidas' agreement varied from that accorded other nations of the Confederacy, due to the Oneidas' alliance with the United States from its inception. The treaty states: "Whereas, in the late war between Great Britain and the United States of America, a body of the Oneida ... Indians, adhered faithfully to the United States, and assisted them with their warriors ... And as the United States in the time of their distress, acknowledged their obligations to these faithful friends and promised to reward them ..."
This treaty is held sacred by the Oneidas and is commemorated by the yearly allocation of treaty cloth to Oneida Members from the federal government. To the Oneidas, the treaty cloth is continued affirmation that the agreement between the United States and the Oneida Nation remains intact.
Unfortunately, through a series of unscrupulous "treaties" orchestrated by New York State immediately following the Revolutionary War, the promises made by the federal government, to preserve and protect the rights of the Oneidas to their ancestral lands, were ignored. One Oneida leader, Good Peter, made a poignant address, referring to New York State's attempts to claim Oneida lands: "The voice of the birds from every quarter cried out You have lost your country -- You have lost your country -- You've lost your country! You have acted unwisely and done wrong.' And what increased the alarm was that the birds who made this cry were white birds."

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