Language is the pedigree of a nation. – Samuel Johnson
Have you ever thought about what defines you as a culture or society? If you close your eyes for a moment and think of some holiday traditions you share with your family or community, you will know what I am getting at. But how do we pass on those familiar traditions?
The true essence of a culture is not found in tangible items, but instead what and how we pass down what we want to perpetuate. Culinary delights, holiday traditions, and cultural occasions all survive because of those who continue to pass them on.
So isn’t language is the heartbeat of who we are as a culture?
Think about the Navajo Code Talkers of WWII for a moment. The young marine recruits were called on to use their native language to communicate top-secret messages during the war. It wasn’t the first time Native American language and been used in war-time, but this was the first time a code could not be hacked. The uniqueness of this ancient language was successful for two reasons: It was difficult to understand (and speak), and it was not written down. The language had been passed down through generations of an ancient people. Now it was to be used to protect and defend a nation through what became known as Code Talk.
During their military training, they were tasked with translating a language they only knew as what we spoke at home. The men also developed new words that would be applicable to the tasks that were unknown to them as a culture.
The Navajo involvement was top-secret. Not only was the language a secret, so were the missions, so much so, when the Code Talkers returned to their homes following the war, they never spoke of their work in the military, even with each other.
Two decades later the Navajo involvement in the war was declassified and the appropriate Honors were given to the deserving men.
Today the Navajo people continue to share stories of their heroic ancestry, and the admiration of the younger generation has generated more interest in relearning the language.
I am forever grateful for their role in American history, and more grateful that they are recognized as the heroes they are. But more important is how lucky we are to be privy to their stories and so we too can tell and retell about their heroism.