Exhibit highlights Native Code Talkers’ contributions
A panel exhibit titled “Code Talkers: How Natives Saved the United States” is on display through Nov. 30 at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Service Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The panels highlight how Native soldiers and marines developed unbreakable codes to help win both world wars.
WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A panel exhibit is on display at the Cherokee Nation Veterans Service Center through Nov. 30 that highlights how Native soldiers and marines developed unbreakable codes to help win both world wars.
“Code Talkers: How Natives Saved the United States” features standing panels that provide the history of Native Code Talkers and how they developed their unbreakable codes. In World War II, Germany’s military code was eventually broken. However, the enemy not could break the codes of Cherokee, Comanche, Navajo and other Native warriors. No machine understood their languages.
Travis Owens, manager of Planning and Development for Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, said research was done to determine if there were Cherokee Code Talkers in World War I or World War II.
“We did a lot of research and found out there was only one proven Cherokee Code Talker named George Adair. We presented some options for what we could do to memorialize the Code Talkers knowing that we could only document one so far,” Owens said. “One of those options was to to do a special exhibition on the history, not just Cherokee, but how Code Talkers saved America – the history of all tribes involved.”
He said the exhibit highlights the Code Talkers’ legacy that included Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Choctaw, Comanche and Navajo soldiers and marines and why they served. The exhibit also highlights Adair who served with the 36th Division in Europe during World War I.
In 2000, Congress passed a law that awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original 29 World War II Navajo Code Talkers and silver medals to each person who qualified as a Navajo Code Talker. In 2007, 18 Choctaw Code Talkers were posthumously awarded the Texas Medal of Valor for their World War II service.
These two events are highlighted in the exhibit along with the fact The Code Talkers Recognition Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, which recognized every Native American Code Talker who served in the U.S. military during WWI or WWII with a Congressional Gold Medal.
In 2013, 25 tribes were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in recognition of the dedication and valor of Native American Code Talkers during WWI and WWII. The CN received one of those medals, which is on display in the exhibit.
Owens said the exhibit also addresses the misconception that every tribe had Code Talkers who served. People will also learn about how the Native soldiers and marines created their codes, which tribes had a formal code-talking program, why Natives adapted better to military life and why Natives fought in World War I when they weren’t citizens of the United States.
In the early 20th century, the Great Depression was particularly hard on Native Americans. Jobs and money were scarce, and families and communities were suffering. The military offered free room, board, clothing, food and pay to enlisted soldiers, which was a huge draw to the Native American population. The armed forces provided a job and place to live, while allowing them to send money home to their families. This history is highlighted in the exhibit.
“This Code Talker exhibit honors the brave Native soldiers who used our Cherokee language and other Native languages to defeat enemies in multiple wars dating back to World War I,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Had it not been for their courageous efforts, the outcome of those wars could have been drastically different. We are proud to share their story with the public.”
The CN Veterans Service Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information about this and other historical attractions, visit www.VisitCherokeeNation.com