“Wind Talker” Actor Addresses BYU-Hawaii Students in Forum
Karen Hemenway | Guest Contributor | 13 July 2007
“Why would Navaho’s fight for a country that tried to destroy them?” This question came from an audience member to Roger Willie, during a forum held Wednesday, 11 July, in the Aloha Center Mall on the BYU-Hawaii campus.
Willie, a Navaho Indian and actor in the film “Wind Talkers” was on campus in connection with the showing of the film the previous evening.
The movie relates the story of twenty-nine Navaho Marines who created a code in their native language during World War II, an unbreakable code that conveyed essential information helping to win major battles. These Navaho Marines were called “Wind Talkers.”
The question referred to the time the United States Government removed the Native American Indians from the free use of the land, confining them to reservations and making efforts to strip away their culture.
The answer, said Willie, comes from the traditions of the Navahos, which are all centered in spirituality.
Willie said he had great respect for the director of “Wind Talkers”, John Woo. Woo went to the reservation to get actors and tried to show how it really was back then. The Saipan battle scenes in “Wind Talkers” were filmed at Kualoa Ranch here on Oahu.
Because of the explosives used (272 explosives) in shooting the film, the Kualoa Ranch could not take guests to its site for 3 months. The film-makers had to pay the Ranch for the revenue which would have been earned in that time, plus wages for their employees, plus rent for the use of the facility for the 3 months of shooting--which amounted to six million dollars.
|The Saipan battle scenes in “Wind Talkers” were filmed
at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu.
“What is the greatest lesson one can learn from the Navahos?” asked another forum participant. After a moment of thought, Willie said,” What do you think of when you think of your own history, culture, language, family, love, spirituality, dreams and adversity? The Navahos had all of these things, which the government tried to strip from them.
“All of these things,” said Willie, “ are important and viable and of worth—not to be discarded.”
To illustrate his points, Willie shared his story with the forum participants, saying that he grew up on a Navaho reservation in New Mexico, left the reservation to attend college, graduated with two bachelors degrees, a masters degree, and got a job as a professor on the campus of University of North Carolina.
“I was not selected for college because I was not prepared,” said Willie. However, his high school art teacher interceded with a letter of recommendation, and he was accepted into an undergraduate program on probation.
“I didn’t understand why I was on probation,” said Willie. “I had just arrived and hadn’t had a chance to do anything wrong.” He was subsequently called into the office of the president and told that he hadn’t paid his bill.
“I didn’t understand what kind of bill he was talking about,” said Willie. “I didn’t know it cost money to go to college.”
Eventually, the college president accepted some of Willie’s original artwork in payment for the tuition.
Recently, Willie resigned from his teaching position at the University of North Carolina to teach on the Navaho reservation. Even though he will receive a drastic cut in pay, he wants to have his two children experience the Navaho traditions, learn the language and be educated the Navaho way—which he says is from the inside out.
“I feel I can make a difference with my people on the reservation,” said Willie. He concluded saying that he feels it is important for young people to leave the reservations to get a higher education, become contributing citizens and then come back to help the Navaho Nation.