ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than anything, the Gathering of Nations – the world’s largest gathering of Native American and indigenous people – is bound together by the rich traditions of more than 700 tribes from throughout the world.
As part of the 30th anniversary in 2013, the powwow is paying tribute to another Native American tradition – military service.
Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita among all U.S. ethnic groups – a fact not lost at the Gathering of Nations, held at the University of New Mexico Arena, known as the Pit.
|Gathering of Nations
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On Friday, the Navajo Code Talkers – an elite group of Marine recruits whose native language was used to create a code that proved to be unbreakable by the Japanese during World War II – were recognized for their service.
They were honored with a special Gourd Dance and will be recognized again at 5 p.m. today by the U.S. Marine Corps. Also to be recognized are another minority group that served with distinction – the Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter and bomber pilots who trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.
The Code Talker recognition had special meaning to two Marine sergeants attending this year’s powwow and staffing the USMC’s recruiting booths.
Sgt. LaShauna Yazzie, whose grandfather Harding Yazzie was a Navajo Code Talker, said her grandfather’s service influenced her decision to enlist in the Marine Corps just over a decade ago.
“I didn’t really understand what a Code Talker was until I was in high school,” said Sgt. Yazzie, a Corps administrator who served two tours in Iraq with combat logistics battalions.
As part of her curriculum in Shiprock High School’s JROTC program, Yazzie learned about the Code Talkers’ important role in World War II, which fueled her desire to wear the Marine Corps uniform.
“Go big or go home,” is how Yazzie describes why she chose the Marines.
“I just really enjoy being part of the Corps, just like my grandfather was,” she said.
Wrapping up a nearly three-year stint as a recruiter in Farmington, Yazzie said she’s looking forward to returning to Okinawa, Japan, next month to resume her administration career.
Sgt. Lorenzo Garcia, a native of Laguna Pueblo who danced many a feast day at Laguna before joining the Marines in 2004, was looking forward Friday to the pageantry of the Gathering of Nations – an event he hasn’t attended since he was child.
Garcia said military service is a tradition he hopes his children – son Adrian, 6, and daughter Jaelynn, 1 – consider when they grow up.
“I come from a family that has a heritage of military service,” Garcia said. “My father and uncles served in the Army, but my oldest brother, who I’ve always looked up to, went into the Marine Corps.”
“When he came home from boot camp and I saw him in his (dress) blues, that was pretty much when I knew I wanted to be a Marine,” Garcia said of his brother, Troy Velasquez, who is now a State Police officer based in Gallup.
Garcia, 28, is a combat engineer who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite the Code Talkers’ contributions, the military didn’t declassify documents acknowledging their role in the war until 1968. The original 29 Navajo Code Talkers who developed the code were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in 2001. All other Code Talkers, estimated at about 500, were awarded Congressional Silver Medals.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal