Saturday, October 18, 2008

Navajo history in a Burger King

After I left the Grand Canyon, I drove through the darkness to Kayenta, where I'm staying in the new Hampton Inn on the edge of town. Kayenta is located within the Navajo Nation, which observes Daylight Savings Time. I had forgotten this fact when planning the day's activities, and as a result, I arrived in Kayenta after almost all of the restaurants had closed.

When I scanned the listing of area amenities that the desk clerk handed to me, I noted that the Burger King next to the Hampton Inn was still open and that it had "an excellent display of the famous WWII Code Talkers." How could I not investigate?

Sure enough, the dining area of the restaurant had a small exhibit --consisting chiefly of photographic prints, with some fascimile documents and artifacts -- devoted to the approximately 400 Navajo men who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Second World War. These men developed a code, based upon the Navajo language, that was used to transmit information about military operations in the Pacific Theater. Their contribution to the Allied war effort was immeasurable.

My photographs of this modest but affecting exhibit are a bit wanting; I was trying to be considerate of the staff and the other people in the restaurant, so I was dependent upon the restaurant's lighting (I think that the exhibit cases have UV film--I didn't notice any fading) and had to shoot from odd angles.

I wouldn't drive a great distance to view this exhibit, but I enjoyed it and am really impressed that the owner(s) of the Kayenta Burger King saw the value of installing such an exhibit in a public space that is usually devoid of such things. We archivists are always talking about the need to make people aware of the significance of historical records and to build partnerships with non-academics and non-genealogists. Until tonight, the thought of partnering with a fast-food restaurant had never crossed my mind. What other kinds of potential partnerships might we be overlooking?

Update 2008-10-19: according to the guide who led my tour group through Monument Valley, the owner of the Kayenta Burger King is the son or grandson of a code talker.

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