Growing up, they had been told not to speak their language, but as young soldiers in a country at war, men like Charles Chibitty and Teddy Draper, Sr., found their words were their mightiest weapons.
The role these and other American Indian men played in U.S. military efforts of the 20th century is explored in two exhibitions newly opened at Heard Museum.
“Native Words, Native Warriors,” a traveling display developed with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, tells the story of Native American soldiers from more than a dozen tribes who used their native languages over airwaves and telephone lines in “code talker” programs to pass messages that enemies couldn’t crack.
Another exhibit, “Navajo Code Talkers: Photographs by Kenji Kawano,” would be interesting for its irony alone (Kawano is a native of Japan, and Navajo soldiers helped U.S. Marines to victory in the Pacific during World War II), but its black-and-white imagery of the old soldiers is caring and evocative.
According to Heard Museum, Kawano arrived in Navajo country in 1974, befriended former Code Talkers, and was eventually named the official photographer of the Navajo Nation.
In addition to the photographs, the museum will spotlight related art and artifacts, such as a pictorial textile depicting Navajo Code Talkers that will be on public display for the first time.
DETAILS >> On display 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, through March 3, 2013. Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. $18 for adults, $13.50 for seniors age 65 and older, and $7.50 for children ages 6-12 or students with valid school ID (602) 252-8840 or Heard.org.
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