Just ask the Redskins.
U.S. Army code talkers during WWII used their Native American language skills to translate battlefield commands into Navajo and other Amerindian languages unknown to the enemy. Code talkers were back in the news last week, this time parsing code in the culture wars.
In Washington. 33 tribes received Congressional Gold Medals to honor the contribution of these servicemen after a 55-year wait. The ceremony adds what could be a final chapter to a years-long effort to recognize the singular contribution of the code talkers.
“It was a long time coming for this type of recognition,” Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) President Jon Greendeer said. “It was very educational, and I think it brought a lot of value to some of the contributions that Native Americans have made during wartime.”
Since the second world war, Navajo code talkers have had a higher profile in the American imagination, even earning Hollywood tribute with Wind Talkers, a 2002 film starring Nicolas Cage.
For some, the code talkers have become synonymous the courage and fortitude of the Native American warrior tradition. For that reason, four Navajo code talkers were also called up in defense of the Washington Redskins. This from Fox News:
Roy Hawthorne, 87, of Lupton, Ariz., was one of four Code Talkers honored for their service in World War II during the Monday night game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Hawthorne, vice president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, said the group’s trip was paid for by the Redskins. The four men met briefly with team owner Dan Snyder but did not discuss the name, Hawthorne said.
Still, he said he would endorse the name if asked, and the televised appearance in which three of the Indians wore Redskins jackets spoke for itself.
“We didn’t have that in mind but that is undoubtedly what we did do,” Hawthorne said when asked if he was intending to send a statement with the appearance. “My opinion is that’s a name that not only the team should keep, but that’s a name that’s American.”
Hawthorne is still talking code. But this time it’s racial code, where he has chosen to make a stand for what is “appropriate” as an ethnic label or a $750 million dollar franchise, whichever has greater value. Hawthorne got free tickets and Snyder got to protect his investment, as history repeats itself as farce. Snyder says he will never change the name.
Amanda Blackhorse, lead petitioner in a federal trademark case against the team name, believes that the NFL team was not sincere when it honored Navajo Code Talkers Monday night.
“As a Navajo person, I understand the symbolic meaning of our Navajo Code Talkers, and we will continue to honor them for their service,” Blackhorse wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports. “The Code Talkers deserved a more genuine honor, not just 30 seconds of media time so the Washington team can sugarcoat their racism.”
Blackhorse told USA Today that she suspects team owner Dan Snyder did not call the Code Talkers “redskins” when he met them before the game. “Those are our elders,” she said. “We honor our elders. I hope he did not use such a word to them, and I don’t think he would.”