Samuel Holiday Project honors late WWII Code Talker, aids Navajo Nation during pandemic; donations needed

ST. GEORGE — Born on the Navajo reservation in the shadow of a mountain known as Eagle Rock, the late Samuel Tom Holiday served his country during World War II as a Navajo Code Talker and later his community as a peace officer and religious leader.

Samuel Tom Holiday attends the 35th annual Paiute Restoration Gathering at the Paiute Tribal Center, Cedar City, Utah, June 13, 2015 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

Two years after his death, Holiday’s granddaughter, St. George resident Tya Redhouse, has organized a fundraising drive to aid the people of the Navajo Nation while honoring his legacy.

Over the past six months, the Navajo have grappled with high numbers of COVID-19 cases as well as the financial impact of extended lockdowns and closures of schools and businesses. Many basic household necessities are still in short supply. 

“Some families out there still live the old-fashioned way, with no running water and no electricity,” Redhouse said. “There’s just a lot of things that they weren’t prepared for and had to make quick decisions for their safety.” 

Redhouse said that in addition to the more familiar items such as food and paper products, people in the community of Kayenta, Arizona, her mother’s hometown, have expressed concern about the curfews prohibiting the transportation of firewood to households off the power grid. 

“They’re worried about getting wood to people that need it the most, because winters do get really brutal out there,” she said. “Firewood is everything for people that don’t have electricity. It’s their hot water, their source to cook food and keep warm, the light in their house.” 

Aside from firewood, items needed on the reservation include: 

  • Bottled water. 
  • Canned soups, fruits and vegetables. 
  • Flour, potatoes and cooking oil. 
  • Paper towels, paper plates, tissues and hand sanitizer. 
  • Baby diapers and wipes.
  • Adult and child clothing of all sizes, excluding socks and underwear. 

Monetary gifts via Venmo or GoFundMe will also be accepted. Anyone with items to contribute can call Redhouse at 435-688-7213 to make arrangements, or send a message to the Facebook page of her business, Native American Food in St. George, Utah. She is accepting donations through Sept. 29.  

Samuel Tom Holiday shows off his boxing stance at his 93rd birthday celebration, St. George, Utah, June 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Redhouse expressed gratitude for those who have given anything they can, or even just shared the project on social media: “This thing that they’re a part of is something that’s going to make a difference on the reservation.”  

Redhouse said the Samuel Holiday Project has already received support from local businesses. Harmons Grocery in Santa Clara donated bottled water; the local C-A-L Ranch and Cowboys & Indians stores contributed blankets, T-shirts and long-sleeved flannels; U-Haul has donated use of a moving truck to transport everything Redhouse collects to the Navajo Nation; and Steamroller Copies printed flyers free of charge advertising the pickup on Oct. 1. 

“Every day, there’s someone that’s coming up with something else and calling me,” she said. “I appreciate everything. I’m trying to fit whatever I can in that U-Haul!”

Amber Brio, thrift manager at the Switchpoint Community Resource Center, was introduced to the project by thrift store volunteer Bruce Skinner. Switchpoint has received an influx of donations since the pandemic began, and upon learning that Redhouse was seeking clothing for children in the Navajo Nation, Brio felt compelled to help.  

“I decided we would just wipe our entire stock and donate what we had out on the floor to the reservation. We had some volunteers come in and help our staff bag up all of the items,” she said. “I grew up in poverty; I know what it’s like to be a child and need clothes.” 

Items on display at Samuel Tom Holiday’s 90th birthday celebration, St. George, Utah, May 31, 2014 | Photo by Samantha Tommer, St. George News

Holiday also came from humble beginnings, raised among sheep herders in the Monument Valley area on the Utah-Arizona border. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a teenager and served numerous combat missions from 1943 to 1945, using his native language to relay critical communications that proved indecipherable by Japanese forces. 

The contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers at Iwo Jima and other battles remained classified until decades after the war. Holiday later chronicled his experiences in his autobiography, “Under the Eagle.” 

Following his military service, Holiday became a police officer on the reservation and married medicine woman Lupita Mae Isaac in 1954, with whom he shared eight children, 33 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. He was a resident of the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins at the time of his death in June 2018, at the age of 94. 

Redhouse said the Holidays ingrained values of family and community in her mother, Lupita Holiday, who passed them down to her.

“He tried to do his best to help everywhere,” she said. “There’s a great pride and great respect that I take in having them as my grandparents.” 

A community pickup for the donated items will be held on Oct. 1 at the Kayenta Chapter House in Kayenta, Arizona, which is Holiday’s final resting place. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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