Intro Native Languages Boarding Schools Code Talking Coming Home Survival Recognition

Survival | HARD TIMES AND RACISM

Navajo farmer hoeing a cornfield, about 1940 on the Navajo Reservation in Ramah, New Mexico. 1

After World War II, most American Indian Code Talkers returned to communities that were having difficult economic times. Jobs were scarce, and so were opportunities for education or job training. Racism toward Indian people was common and even though they had served their country with distinction, Indian veterans could not eat or drink in some establishments—or even vote in some national or state elections. To overcome these challenges, Code Talkers had to be as resourceful as they had been during the war.

Jobs and Opportunities for Veterans

Employment with the railroad companies was another option for some returning Code Talkers. 2

War was hard on the entire American economy. Food and gasoline were rationed and many basic items were in short supply. After the war, many returning veterans found it difficult to find jobs. Most American Indian reservations and communities are located in rural areas where there are few jobs even during normal economic times. Unemployment and poverty levels had long been high for American Indians, but it was even worse after the war. Life was very difficult for many World War II American Indian veterans.

Some of the returning Code Talkers stayed in their home communities and farmed, ranched, fished, and did whatever kinds of work they could find. Others had to move to larger urban areas where jobs were more plentiful. Many veterans took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (better known as the G.I. Bill) to go to college or get vocational training.

The Code Talkers accomplished many things during their post-war lives. Some became leaders in their communities and participated in the tribal governments. They became educators, artists, and professionals in a variety of fields. Others were active in the cultural lives of their tribes. Some worked to help preserve their languages. Teddy Draper, Sr., a Navajo Code Talker during World War II, spent years teaching the Navajo language at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.

Racism has long been an obstacle for American Indian people to overcome. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full United States citizenship to all American Indians. However, some states still refused to let American Indians vote. Not until 1948 in Arizona and New Mexico, and 1957 in Utah, could American Indians vote in those states.

After I came back, back home. Still no job, no work, so, back to the railroad again. I worked on railroad and I found out they were only short time jobs. Went to Haskell Institute in Lawrence Kansas. Took a course in refrigeration and electrical wire, house wiring.—Sam Tso, Navajo Code Talker, National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004
And mind you, to put the record straight... it was such a hard time when we came back from the service.—John Brown, Jr., Navajo Code Talker, National Museum of the American Indian interview, 2004

Carl Gorman after the War

Carl Gorman in Los Angeles in the1950s, where he studied art and worked. 3
There are a thousand paths you can take in life. But there is only one right one... when you’re on the right path, you’ll know it. —Carl Gorman (Power of a Navajo: Carl Gorman, The Man and His Life by Henry and Georgia Greenberg, 1996)

After the war, Carl Gorman rediscovered his love for drawing and studied at the Otis Art Institute in California. Afterwards, he drew technical illustrations for an aircraft company and later became a successful artist. Carl also became more involved in his Navajo culture. He painted scenes of his Navajo homeland and the culture of his people. He and other members of the Navajo Club in Los Angeles helped organize shipments of food and clothing to the Navajo reservation where there was poverty and unemployment after the war. Eventually, Carl became a college professor at the University of California at Davis. He also returned to his beloved homeland and worked for the Navajo government to document traditional Navajo culture. Later in life, he was an administrator at the Navajo Community College (now Diné College). Carl loved working with young students. He encouraged them to be proud of their heritage and to find the right path for their lives.

Charles Chibitty after the War

Charles Chibitty in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2004. 4

After the war, Charles Chibitty returned home to Oklahoma. He furthered his education and became a glazier, a craftsman who installs glass windows in homes and buildings. Charles had always been proud of his American Indian identity and remained closely connected to his Comanche culture throughout his life. He danced in Gourd Dances, which are special dances that honor veterans. He was also a long-time champion Fancy Dancer in powwow contests throughout the country. Charles strongly believed that it was important to preserve his language and culture. His adopted daughter Carrie Wilson said, “He tried to teach Comanche to whomever showed an interest in it.” (“Last World War II Comanche Code Talker Laid to Rest,” by Rudi Williams,2005)

Reflection and Discussion Questions

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  1. Photograph by Paul J. Woolf. National Museum of the American, Indian P24070
  2. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of National Archives
  3. Photograph by Mary Gorman. Courtesy of Carl Gorman Collection
  4. Photograph by Timothy A. Jones. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution