OPINION: Remembering service of Cherokee Code Talkers

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Former Principal Chief
12/01/2018 12:00 PM
We recently concluded elections across Oklahoma and the United States. Being able to vote and participate in the electoral process is a critical part of our democracy. At Cherokee Nation we are adamant about honoring and paying respects to those who have fought for the liberties we enjoy every day and hold so dear. Reflecting on the sacrifices that brave men and women have made over the years gives us perspective on the cost of freedom and democracy.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI in 1918. Recently, the Intertribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes passed a resolution honoring the warriors and code talkers of WWI with a “Day of Remembrance” for their service and valor. Veterans from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole tribes have served in every military branch and in every U.S. war.

According to historians, during WWI several Cherokee soldiers utilized the Cherokee language in relaying critical, top-secret messages across Europe. To prevent communication lines from being cut or tapped, signal officers met and decided to put Native soldiers, including Cherokees, to work on the field phones. They transmitted messages in their own language, keeping the messages secret. From then on, it was reported that “… there were no further messages intercepted by the enemy that we heard of.” In fact, a colonel of the enemy’s intelligence staff was captured and taken to headquarters. He stated that the enemy had men who could speak and translate a majority of languages of the world but none could understand the language the Americans were using.

It is reported that Cherokees were used in the message relaying capacity until the end of WWI. The Cherokee men who served in this heroic role did so even before they held American citizenship and, consequently, the right to vote, which was not granted to most Native Americans until 1924.

They served at a time when the federal government's policies toward tribal nations were hostile, and yet they still fought for American freedom. Our code talkers, from all tribes, are an extraordinary example for us to follow and they served in such an exceptional way – using the language given to them by the Creator to help turn the tide in WWI and then again in WWII.

Five years ago, the Cherokee Nation, along with 32 other tribes, accepted a Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol as a tribute to our code talkers. The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded as the “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” made by an individual or institution. The award we received that day is currently on display at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center.

Our tribal Veterans Center is located east of the main complex at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave., in Tahlequah. It is managed by our Cherokee Nation Office of Veterans Affairs. It provides vital support services to veterans across the region and hosts an annual Warrior Flight. It also manages a unique partnership we have with the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank to provide food for veterans in northeast Oklahoma.

Today there are thousands of Cherokee veterans around the world. Native Americans, Cherokees in particular, have a longstanding history of serving the military at a higher rate per capita than any other ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. We salute and celebrate these individuals who have given so much.

To connect with our Cherokee Nation Veterans Center, call 918-772-4166 or stop by weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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