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AMERICAN MOSAIC - November 30, 2001: Native American Heritage Month Special - 2001-11-29


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month in the United States by:

playing some award-winning Indian music ...

answering a question about American Indians ...

and reporting about a group of Navajo Indians recently honored for their work during World War Two.

Navajo Code Talkers


Members of the American Indian Navajo tribe have been honored for helping the United States and Allied forces defeat Japan in World War Two. Twenty-nine members of the Navajo tribe received Congressional Gold Medals last summer for creating a secret code. Last week, three-hundred more tribe members received Congressional Silver Medals for their part in the Code Talkers program. Jim Tedder explains.


The Code Talkers helped shorten World War Two for allied forces in the Pacific. They used the Navajo language of their Indian tribe as a secret weapon.

Twenty-nine Navajos developed a secret communications system. It permitted American Marine commanders to use their radios to give orders, report about troop movements and plan operations. The commanders knew that Japanese soldiers listening to the communications would never be able to understand what was said.

Navajo is a complex language. It is extremely difficult to learn to speak. In Nineteen-Forty-Two, only a few people who were not Navajos could speak it at all.

The code talkers used Navajo words to express the meaning of orders given by Marine commanders. For example, different kinds of planes were represented by Navajo words for different kinds of birds. A bombing plane was called a “jay-sho”, or buzzard in Navajo. A fighter plane was a “da-he-tih-hi”, or humming bird. Other animals represented other words. ”Chay-da-gahi” is the word for turtle in Navajo. In code talk, it meant a tank.

More than four-hundred code talkers served during the Second World War. The enemy never broke their code. One American general reportedly said the Marines could not have captured the island of Iwo Jima without the help of the code talkers.

The code was kept secret for many years after the war. Military officials considered it so valuable that no one was permitted to talk about it until Nineteen-Sixty-Nine.

After that, the code talkers spoke about their work. They said they were proud to be United States Marines, or in their language, “Washindon be Akalh B-kosilai.”

American Indians


We have two VOA listener questions about American Indians. Binh Thanh Nguyen from Vietnam asks why Native Americans are known as Indians. Khalid from Morocco asks about the political position of Indians in the United States today.

The European explorer Christopher Columbus gave the name “Indians” to the native peoples of North and South America. He thought he had reached a place called the Indies. In time, the terms American Indian and Indian became widely used.

About two-million-five-hundred-thousand Native Americans and Alaskan Natives live in the United States today. They belong to more than five-hundred-fifty different tribes. They still speak more than two-hundred languages.

Some Indians live in cities and farm areas. About five-hundred-thousand live on two-hundred-seventy-five reservations. A reservation is the land given to the tribe by the federal government. Most tribes were moved to reservations in the Eighteen-Hundreds when the government took their traditional lands.

American Indians are citizens of the United States. They have the same rights to vote and to be elected to public office as other citizens. An American Indian served as vice president of the United States under President Herbert Hoover. He was Charles Curtis, a Kaw Indian from the state of Kansas. Indians have been elected to the United States Congress for more than eighty years. One Indian now serving in Congress is Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. He is a member of the northern Cheyenne tribe.

Indians must obey federal, state and local laws when they are not on the reservation. On the reservation, only federal laws and tribal laws are in effect. Most tribal officials are elected by members of the tribe.

Each of the tribes has its own culture and history. The Seneca of the northeast woodlands, the Navajo of the desert southwest, and the Inuit of the snowy Arctic have different ways of living. Yet all the tribes share major concerns. They are trying to keep their traditional cultures alive while improving the living conditions of tribal members.

NAMA Awards


Last month, the Native American Music Association held its fourth yearly awards ceremony. The awards honor musicians, singers and other Native American music makers. Shirley Griffith plays music by some of the winners.


Robert Mirabal won the most awards given by the Native American Music Association. He was named Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. His album “Music from a Painted Cave” was also honored as Record of the Year. Here Robert Mirabal performs a song from that album. It is called “Ee-You-Oo.”


The Native American Music Association honored Annie Humphrey with the award for Best Female Artist of the Year. Mizz Humphrey grew up on the Ojibwe Indian reservation in Minnesota. Later she served in the United States Marines. She says her music is about a number of human conditions -- not just the Indian experience.

Here she sings the title song of her album “The Heron Smiled.”


The Native American Music Association gave a special award to the Neville Brothers. It is called the Living Legend Award. Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril Neville have celebrated Native American culture for many years. We leave you now with the Neville Brothers performing “Sacred Ground.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC—VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Nancy Steinbach, Paul Thompson and Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Bill Barber. And our producer was Paul Thompson.