2012 News and Events
Zonnie Gorman talks about Navajo Code Talker dad
29-30 March 2012
Years ago, Dr. Rosalyn Ing bought a book about Carl Gorman, one of the original Navajo Code Talkers, in New Mexico. It might have been purchased from the studio of RC Gorman, a noted Navajo artist who is Carl Gorman’s son, she said.
It was with unexpected delight that Dr. Ing could bring that same book, Power of a Navajo to University of British Columbia March 30 to be signed by the late Carl Gorman’s daughter, Zonnie. The book by Henry Greenberg and Georgia Greenberg, produced by Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe, NM, in 1996, is now out of print, says Zonnie. She signed the book next to one of the pictures of her as a baby.
In 1989 Zonnie Gorman embarked on a journey to learn more about her father, who later in life was a recognized Navajo artist.
She told an audience March 29 at First Peoples House, University of Victoria, that as her father’s youngest child she went to Code Talker reunions with him. She knew there was something special about the Code Talkers but she didn’t know much about what they had done.
In doing the Code Talker research she discovered a love for cultural history, a history she now shares on speaking tours. Zonnie’s recent Canadian tour included Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver, under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department.
She has unearthed old correspondence, old photographs and some memoirs from the U.S. Marine Corps on the idea of using bilingual Navajo men to develop a military communications code for the Second World War. It seemed like a far-fetched idea to go to the largest American tribe in the U.S. looking for young recruits when there were treaties with the Navajo that supposedly would prevent them from bearing arms. In the war fervor, the patriotic Navajo were eager to sign on, showing up at the make-shift reservation recruitment hall with a range of weapons from sticks to muskets to guns.
From an original 29 Code Talkers team came an astoundingly successful code which had never been broken by the enemy.
The Code Talker story takes on a new meaning in 2012. At both University of Victoria and at University of British Columbia where Zonnie spoke March 30, the study and revitalization of native language is a vital part of regaining what has been lost in First Nations culture.
First Peoples’ Heritage, Language & Cultural Council and Indigenous Education sponsored Zonnie’s talk at University of Victoria in cooperation with U.S. Consulate General Vancouver.
After UVic, Zonnie went to Saanichton to tell the Code Talkers story at ŁÁU,WELNEW Tribal School. This school is supported by the Tsartlip, Pauquachin, Tseycum and Tsawout bands on Vancouver Island.
Students are usually surprised, she said, to learn that most of the original Code Talkers were almost as young as themselves, 17, 18, 19 years old. Her father, Carl, born in 1907, was the oldest—because he lied about his age. He was very youthful looking, she added.
At the First Nations House of Learning at University of British Columbia, Zonnie spoke to a contingent of veterans as well as students and the public. The First Nations Languages Program co-sponsored the event.
Among the veterans were Dr. Ing, born to a Cree family in Manitoba, and a former Leading Air Woman for the Royal Canadian Air Force, tracking aircraft at a radar base. Her husband, C. George Ing, is past president of Pacific Unit 280, of the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada.
Before leaving for home in New Mexico Zonnie stopped at the UBC’s Museum of Anthropology for a too brief look at examples of the masterful weaving North American coastal First Nations were once known for.
Later, at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Zonnie met Jisgang (Nika Collison) and Jusquan (Amanda Bedard), co-curators of the newly-opened exhibit, That Which Makes Us Haida. The exhibit is about the diminishing number of Haida language speakers and the effort to teach young Haidas their language again.
Zonnie was excited to learn how much the Navajo and British Columbia First Nations have in common, a history of weaving, and the effort to revitalize language and culture among the native youth. Read more about Zonnie at http://www.zonniegorman.com.