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SALT LAKE CITY — It was an emotional day in Utah's Senate chambers for Native Americans who came Monday to hear SCR2, a resolution recognizing and honoring Navajo Code Talkers.
"I feel like its been long overdue, I did get a little bit emotional when it passed on the Senate floor, and it's an honor to actually honor our Code Talkers. Again, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for them," said Charlaine Tso, council delegate for the Navajo Nation.
Navajo Code Talkers built the only military code that was not broken in modern history, saving many lives and allowing the United States to take Iwo Jima thanks to the messages they sent.
The concurrent resolution, which passed Monday in the Senate and the House, also designates Aug. 14 this year as Navajo Code Talkers Day in Utah. Navajo Code Talkers Day is already celebrated among the Navajo and President Ronald Reagan declared it a national holiday in 1982.
Tso said wherever she is for Navajo Code Talkers Day, she makes sure it is a day of reflection, remembrance and goal setting.
"If I'm home with family first we pray and we give thanks we always remember our upbringing and we try to remain humble, provide that integrity and poise, and make sure that our younger generation see that as well," Tso said.
Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, said New Mexico and Arizona have already recognized the holiday and the work of the Navajo Code Talkers. He is glad Utah is taking this step as well.
"It's just been a great legacy for those that have returned to our Heavenly Father and we have a handful of Code Talkers left … we want to honor them while they are still here with us," Nez said.
Eight of the original 400 Code Talkers are alive, they are individually recognized in the resolution.
Senate Assistant Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, is the sponsor for the bill. Iwamoto said her interest came when she saw a display at University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library. She also felt connected because her father served in WWII as a Nisei soldier.
"They did so much for our country and saved so many lives," Iwamoto said.
Iwamoto is also sponsoring a companion bill, SB101, which would recognize Navajo Code Talkers Day every year in Utah. The bill could also designate portions of roads in San Juan County as the Navajo Code Talker Highway.
Mary Allen, who is half Navajo and half Goshute, and Sáanii Atsitty, who is Navajo, were listening in the Senate gallery Monday. They met today but already considered each other sisters. Allen said she feels a similar connection to Code Talkers, some of which were from her clan.
"I've just always been so grateful … to hear their stories of sacrifice, especially at such a young age, going off to fight to protect our land and our people and our way of life," Atsitty said.
Seth Damon is the speaker for the 24th Navajo Nation Council, said the recognition has meaning not just for the 400 Code Talkers who served, but to all Native Americans.
"It's more than recognizing just Navajo Code Talkers too, it's actually recognizing indigenous people, saying that we helped build this country and we helped sustain this country and we … fought for this country," Damon said.
Nez and Tso agreed more could be done to teach about Native Americans and the Navajo Code Talkers in school.
"A lot of students across America still don't know who Code Talkers are and, again, if we can kind of implement that in school systems I think they will have a much better perspective and a better understanding of who Native Americans are," Tso said.
Correction: An earlier version reported the father of Senate Assistant Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, fought in WWII as a Nisei soldier. His service did not include combat.