Navajo Nation requests highway be named for late senator, WWII Code Talker

Elizabeth Howe
August 15, 2019 - 11:22 am

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Former New Mexico Senator John Pinto was instrumental in the efforts to turn U.S. Route 666 into U.S. 491. Now, Navajo Nation officials have asked the highway be renamed for the late senator himself. 

The Naabik'iyati' Committee submitted legislation requesting the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, rename U.S. Route 491 "in recognition of Senator Dr. Pinto's legacy of strong advocacy and dedicated work to enhance the lives of the Dina of the Great Navajo Nation."

Pinto, born in Lupton, Ariz. in the Navajo Nation, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1941 and served as a Navajo Code Talker during World War II. He went on to be elected to Senate in 1977 and held his position until he passed this year on May 24 — making him New Mexico's longest-serving member of the Senate. 

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"Senator Dr. John Pinto was a pillar of the local community and gave his unwavering service to not only Navajo Nation, but also the state of New Mexico, and the United States," the bill reads. "He was revered by both his local constituents in Navajo Nation and his colleagues in the Senate."

U.S. Route 491 — previously U.S. Route 666 — runs from Gallup, New Mexico to Shiprock, New Mexico. The highway, nicknamed "Devil's Highway," was named one of the 20 most dangerous highways in the country in 1997 and saw a high number of traffic-related fatalities. It was renamed in 2003 with the help of legislators like Pinto.

"While working in Washington D.C. he continued his dedication to local communities both on Navajo Nation and throughout New Mexico," the bill continues. "Because of his tireless dedication and support, Navajo Nation requests that US Route 491 be named after Senator Dr. John Pinto to honor his legacy."

Grisham's office has not endorsed the proposal but did release a statement recognizing Pinto's service.

“The governor certainly recognizes the need to appropriately honor a singular public servant and statesman like Sen. Pinto and will always be open to exploring ways to do that,” spokesman Tripp Stelnicki told Associated Press.

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