Navajo indian background and history


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It took Johnston some time to convince Major Jones about the potential for using a Native American code, but after Johnston spoke a few Navajo words to the baffled major, Jones decided to give Johnston's idea a trial run with actual Navajos. Within two weeks, Johnston assembled four Navajos in the Los Angeles area and arranged to meet Major Jones back at Camp Elliott on February 27, , with the demonstration to occur the next day. Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, that explained the many reasons he believed that the Navajo offered the best possibility for recruitment as signalmen.

Included in the report was a description of Johnston's own knowledge of the Navajo gained through his childhood experiences, general background information on the status of Native Americans that gave population statistics, and a specific explanation of the potential of the Navajo language as a military code. It stressed the complexity of the Navajo language and the fact that it remained mostly "'unwritten' because an alphabet or other symbols of purely native origin" did not exist, with the exception of adaptations by American scholars, anthropologists, and Franciscan Fathers, who compiled a Navajo dictionary.

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Furthermore, the report noted that the languages of Native American tribes varied so significantly that one group of Native Americans could not understand another's language. Johnston's proposal also discussed how fluency in reading Navajo could be obtained only by those "individuals who are first highly educated in English, and who, in turn, have made a profound study of Navajo, both in spoken and written form.

Johnston's report concluded by recommending the Navajo, Sioux, Chippewa, and Pima-Papago as tribes that were available for recruitment based on the size of their population. Because of Johnston's intimate knowledge of the Navajo reservation, its people, and the Navajo language-- and because the Navajo had the largest population of Native American-- he believed that they offered the best possibility for recruitment.

Johnston thought that the tribe's seclusion made the Navajo a culturally and linguistically autonomous people compared with other native groups. The Navajo reservation, which was located largely in Arizona but which comprised portions of New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, totaled an area of 25, square miles of isolated and sparsely populated land that was largely inaccessible due to unimproved roads and trails. Johnston also believed that many Navajos had been given an education that adequately prepared them for jobs outside their traditional life-styles.

In the years prior to , Navajo children attended government-established schools on the reservation that taught English grammar.

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A large number of them also attended schools outside of the reservation that taught native arts and crafts and offered classes in trades and occupations. With proper training, Johnston was sure that Navajos who fit the age and education requirements for military service could be taught to transmit messages in their native language. On February 28, , the four Navajos assisted Johnston in demonstrating his idea. Prior to the demonstration, General Vogel had installed a telephone connection between two offices and wrote out six messages that were typical of those sent during combat.

One of those messages read "Enemy expected to make tank and dive bomber attack at dawn. A week later on, March 6, , Vogel wrote a letter to the U. Marine Corps commandant recommending the initial recruitment of two hundred Navajos for the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet. The letter is featured with this article. After detailing the nature of the demonstration and its success, Vogel outlined in his letter the advantages, as he saw them, to Johnston's proposal. Vogel noted that the Navajo dialect was regarded as "completely unintelligible" to other tribes, and that only twenty-eight Americans were thought to possess a more than superficial knowledge of the language.

In addition, Vogel noted that the Navajo was the only tribe, according to Johnston, that had not yet been infiltrated by Germans posing as students, art dealers, and anthropologists in order to study the various tribal dialects of American Indians. Interestingly, this point was to become somewhat moot, as the code talkers were never deployed on the European front, the Marine Corps operations being primarily situated in the Pacific Theater. But the statement nevertheless revealed the priorities of Vogel and the military on the whole-- to maintain in their communications the utmost secrecy and security.

Although Vogel's letter was firm in its support, it nevertheless contained allusions to some of the problems that would trouble the project as it progressed. Prior to the demonstration, the Navajo demonstrators, Vogel stated, were allowed a few minutes to "improvise" words for military terminology not in the Navajo vocabulary. While the demonstration itself was a success, over the next year, the development of a consistent and universally applicable Navajo code for the countless military terms would prove to be a major obstacle.

Vogel also stated, on the basis of Johnston's assurances, that one thousand Navajos with necessary qualifications could be found for the project.

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When the program eventually expanded, however, meeting such expectations proved difficult. While these concerns were not to manifest themselves for some time, others found more immediate reasons to object.

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One colonel stated that the supposed primary advantage of the code talkers over the encrypted system -- speed -- was actually of little benefit because in field action situations, when speed was of the essence, messages were usually sent verbatim without code because the enemy would not have time to intercept them and respond. The colonel was also reluctant to endorse a proposal that would "combat directing officers depending on an order being translated" in a language that they themselves had no chance of understanding.

Despite these objections, the initial recruitment of code talkers was approved, with the stipulation that the Navajo meet the normally required qualifications for enlistment, undergo the same seven-week training as any other recruit, and meet strict linguistic qualifications in English and Navajo, qualifications not easily attained. On May 5, , the first 29 Navajos arrived at the Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, for basic training, where they trained in the standard procedures of the military and in weapons use.

Afterward, they moved to Fleet Marine Force Training Center at Camp Elliott, where they received special courses in the transmission of messages and instruction in radio operation. It was at Camp Elliott that the initial recruits, along with communications personnel, designed the first Navajo code.

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This code consisted of words, most of which were Navajo terms that had been imbued with new, distinctly military meanings in order to compensate for the lack of military terminology in the Navajo vocabulary. For example, "fighter plane" was called "da-ha-tih-hi," which means "humming bird" in Navajo, and "dive bomber" was called "gini," which means "chicken hawk. For example, the letter A was "wol-la-chee," which means "ant" in Navajo, and the letter E was "dzeh," which means "elk. The Navajo soon demonstrated their ability to memorize the code and to send messages under adverse conditions similar to military action, successfully transmitting the code from planes, tanks, or fast-moving positions.

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The program was deemed so successful that an additional two hundred Navajos were recommended for recruitment as messengers on July 20, This prompted Philip Johnston to offer his services as a staff sergeant to aid in the development of the code talker program. On October 2, , Johnston enlisted and began training his first class in November and spent the remainder of the war training additional Navajo recruits.

After the new recruits went through the Marine Corps' basic training course, they came to Johnston for what he termed an "extremely intensive" eight-week messenger training course. As the code talker program grew, so did the development of the code. A cryptographer who monitored the code talkers' transmissions concluded that the code might be broken because using the alphabet to spell out words not in the Navajos' vocabulary produced too many repetitions. For example, in addition to designating "wol-la-chee," meaning "ant," for A "be-la-sana" and "tse-nihl" which meant "apple" and "axe," respectively, were also designated for the letter A.

The original vocabulary terms were also expanded to Navajo Code Dictionary. When initially approached with the idea, the U. Marine Corps was hesitant to take the idea seriously. The tribe came from a remote region, and only a handful of non-Navajos had any knowledge of the language. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job.

Navy Historical Achieves The success was so great that proponents instantly wanted Navajo code talkers to enlist immediately. The final number agreed upon was 30 men. Recruiting began in early in Arizona.

The Navajo Code Talkers went on to serve in the U. Marine Corps in the Pacific during the war.

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