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SHI, Sealaska to sponsor lectures on Tlingit, Navajo code talkers


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and Sealaska will sponsor two lectures on Tlingit and Navajo code talkers next week in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander Ozzie Sheakley on Tuesday will speak about Tlingit code talkers Mark Jacobs, Jr., Harvey Jacobs, George Lewis, Jr., Robert "Jeff" David, Sr., and Richard Bean, Sr., and their Congressional Gold and Silver Medals.

Sheakley will be followed by Judith Avila, author of the best-selling book Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII. Avila will provide the context of the work of code talkers through her lecture Code Talker-Looking through the Eyes of Navajo Marine Chester Nez (1921-2014).  She will be accompanied by Chester Nez's grandson, Latham Nez.

Native code talkers played a pivotal role in World War II, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

"During the war, the Japanese had cracked every code the United States used, but when the Marines turned to Navajo, Tlingit and other Native American recruits to develop and implement a secret military language, they created the only unbroken codes in modern warfare-and helped assure victory for the United States over Japan in the South Pacific," Worl said.

Navajo code talkers have long been recognized for the crucial part they played in World War II.  But until very recently, no one knew that Tlingit code talkers also used the Tlingit language as a code that the enemy was never able to crack. Even the families of the Tlingit code talkers did not know of their secret service.

In November 2013, Congress awarded silver medals posthumously to Tlingit code talkers Robert Jeff David, Sr., Richard Bean, Sr., George Lewis, Jr., and brothers Harvey Jacobs and Mark Jacobs, Jr.  Southeast Alaska Native Veterans Commander and guest lecturer Ozzie Sheakley, who attended the Congressional ceremony in Washington, D.C. along with representatives from thirty-two other tribes whose members were also code talkers, received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Tlingit tribe.

Former House Speaker John Boehner reported at the ceremony that "during forty-eight hours on Iwo Jima, they say 800 Native language battle communications were received and translated.  It took seconds, at a time when decoding by machines could take half an hour.  The men undoubtedly saved lives."

SHI and Sealaska are sponsoring the November series in honor of traditional Native warriors and veterans. The free lectures are scheduled at noon on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. Everyone is welcome.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
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