Their secret language saved countless lives


WSU students create documentary films on Navajo Code Talkers in WWII

The life stories of nine Navajo Code Talkers were featured in a ceremony at Window Rock, Ariz., as part of Navajo Code Talkers Day on Friday, August 14, 2020. The films were created by students of Winona State University and Diné College, Tsaile, Ariz., the tribal college of the Navajo Nation.

The films were created under the Navajo Oral History project, an academic collaboration of the two education institutions, which ran from 2009-2015.

During six years of active field work, students in the Navajo Oral History project made 27 documentary films about Navajo elders, including nine films about Navajo Code Talkers. 

The Code Talkers were Navajo men recruited to the U.S. Marines during World War II who used their native language in a code that was never broken and helped end the war and save countless lives. Of the more than 400 Navajo Code Talkers that served during the war, the four remaining Navajo Code Talkers, all over age 90, are Thomas Begay of Window Rock, Ariz.; John Kinsel Sr. of Lukachukai, Ariz.; Peter MacDonald Sr. of Tuba City, Ariz.; and Samuel Sandoval of Shiprock, N.M.

In 1982, U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared August 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day. The Code Talkers are honored each year on Navajo Code Talkers Day at the Navajo Nation capitol.

During the 2020 Navajo Code Talker event, held online due to the virus crisis, films featuring nine Navajo Code Talkers were broadcast and student filmmakers recognized for recording their histories.

The Navajo Oral History Project was led by Dr. Tom Grier and Robbie Christiano of Winona State University and Dr. Miranda Haskie of Diné College. During the six years of the project, WSU students stayed at the Diné College campus for several weeks in the summer, collaborating with Diné College students to research, interview, video-record, photograph, edit and produce documentary films.

All Navajo Oral History Project films are archived at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, as well as at the Navajo Nation Museum and Library and the libraries of both schools. The NOHP films about Code Talkers are also archived at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

For more information, contact Dr. Tom Grier via email at, or Dr. Miranda Haskie via email at


Code Talkers featured in NOHP films:


2009 Sam Tso, from Lukachukai, Ariz. 

Students who created the Samuel Tso film:

•    From Diné College: Eli Francis

•    From Winona State University: Brandi Hagen, Cory Hinz, Matt Wandzel


2010 John Kinsel Sr., from Lukachukai, Ariz.    

Students who created the John Kinsel film:

•    From Diné College: Marcus A. Lake, Revaline Nez 

•    From Winona State University: Michael Ruka, Jennifer Westman


2011 Keith Little, from Crystal, N.M.

Students who created the Keith Little film:

•    From Diné College: Jessica King, Shawn Tsosie

•    From Winona State University: Robbie Christiano


2012 Kee Etsicitty, from Chichiltah, N.M.

Students who created the Kee Etsicitty film:

•    From Diné College: Robin McGee

•    From Winona State University: Kelsey Foss, Samantha Luhmann, Stefani Schmidt


Samuel Tom Holiday, from Kayenta, Ariz.    

Students who created the Samuel Tom Holiday film:

•    From Diné College: Kelsey Curtis, Christine Willie

•    From Winona State University: Liam Krause, Rachel Rivers


Chester Nez, from Albuquerque, N.M., the last of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers

Students who created the Chester Nez film:

•    From Diné College: Kaitlyn Haskie, Marla Sandoval-Redhouse

•    From Winona State University: Emily Gust, Kelly Kusilek, Elena Lavorato


Joe Vandever, from Haystack, N.M.

Students who created the Joe Vandever film:

•    From Diné College: James McKenzie, Shawn Tsosie

•    From Winona State University: Shannon Bolte, Joel Farber


2013 Peter MacDonald, from Tuba City, Ariz. 

Students who created the Peter MacDonald film:

• From Diné College: Debb Teller

• From Winona State University: Shiloh Gulbranson, Tom Hays, Jolene Kuisle


2015 Bill Toledo, from Grants, N.M.

Students who created the Bill Toledo film:

•    From Diné College: Kyle Brown, Stephanie Tsosie

•    From Winona State University: Jacob Hilsabeck, Kacie Mann, Samantha Stetzer


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