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Arts & Culture

ITC Exhibits Vital Role Of Native American "Code Talkers" In War

The Institute of Texan Cultures is opening an exhibition called "Native Words, Native Warriors" on an obscure part of recent American history. In World War I and II, American forces needed to communicate secrets to one another. The problem was the enemy understood their language.

"The Germans were very good at English and also good at cryptography and breaking codes," said the exhibit’s curator, Dr. William Meadows.

American forces then began to use a secret weapon: Native Americans and their largely unknown, difficult to cipher language, which was further complicated by using that language as a basis for additional code.

"The Navajo was very heavily coded. It started out with about 211 code terms and then eventually evolved to over 600" Meadows said.

Native Americans communicated highly secretive communications on troop movements, weapons and other critical info. And their help was crucial on one of the Pacific’s most telling battles.

"Major Conner on Iwo Jima, who was in charge of the communications net, he used six teams of Navajos to send over 800 messages in I believe it was the first forty-eight hours,"Meadows said. "And he claims that if it wasn’t for Navajo, we’d have never taken that island."

The exhibit opens saturday with the colors being presented by local Native Americans, followed by a  presentation by Meadows. The exhibit runs through December 29.