Dream of code talkers museum a step closer

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 6, 2009

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: The Marine honor guard from Albuquerque stands at attention July 31 as the Navajo Code Talkers begin to form their ranks behind them.

BOTTOM: Members of the Navajo Code Talkers Association stand in formation before the start of the land transfer ceremony July 31 east of Window Rock.

The Navajo Code Talkers Association is a step closer to its dream of one day having a place where people can go to learn about the role the code talkers played in winning World War II.

More than 500 people gathered July 31 at a spot along State Route 264 about five miles east of Window Rock, where they witnessed a signing ceremony between association members and officials for Chevron Mining Co., which turned over 208 acres of land as a site for the museum.

"We had a lot of code talkers show up for the event," said Keith Little, president of the association. "We had a lot not able to come as well."

The Navajo Code Talkers, now in their 80's and 90's, are working to provide some kind of lasting legacy to future Navajo generations, one that not only will tell their story but will illustrate what a small group of Navajos was able to do using their language and culture.

That goal of a lasting legacy is also shared, said Chevron officials, by anyone who has had a chance to hear how the Navajos used their language in a code that stumped the Japanese during the battle for the Pacific. In fact, it was the only code that was never broken in the war.

"We are privileged to support the Navajo Code Talker's Association in their efforts to create a legacy worthy of their heroism and their place in American history," said Fred Nelson, president of Chevron Mining.

"Today's land transfer is an important step in bringing new opportunities to this area and encouraging new investment in the community," he added.

Chevron is phasing out operations at the McKinley Mine - no final closure date has been announced - and both the tribe and the state are seeking new uses for the reclaimed mine lands. The museum site is located far from current mining operations.

The association's plans are a lot grander than just a museum.

The latest plans call for a veterans' center to honor all Navajo veterans and a Native healing area. There are also plans for a Navajo language institute.

Little said the association only has about $700,000 on hand but hopes to raise another $20 million to build the museum. The entire project is expected to run north of $60 million.

Among the revenue-generators the association is looking at building are rental cabins, a gift shop and a restaurant. Profits from these ventures would help pay for running the museum and veteran's center.

The association has also talked about creating a veteran's cemetery but to do so would need more land. Little said there is tribal land next to the company land that could be used for a cemetery.

Now that they have the land, Little said the code talkers will have to start hustling for private donations as well as government money to achieve their vision. He's also hoping for some federal stimulus money that has been set aside for economic development.

"We would like to see this become a reality as soon as possible so we'll be asking for donations and doing a fundraising blitz," Little said.

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