The Cherokee Nation and Comanche Nation are among more than 30 tribes receiving a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony Wednesday to honor Native American Code Talkers.
Representatives from 33 tribes across the country will be on hand at the U.S. Capitol in Washington for the ceremony.
Congress passed an act in 2008 recognizing the work of the Code Talkers who used their native language to pass messages to confuse the enemy during World Wars I and II. Each tribe will be presented with a gold medal.
The Comanche Nation recently unveiled an exhibit in Lawton about the tribe’s Code Talkers and honored relatives during a ceremony.
Cherokee Nation Veterans Representative Raymond Vann said the medal ceremony is one way to recognize the importance of Native Americans’ service in the defense of the U.S.
“Native Americans who served as code talkers during World War I and II are true American heroes whose ingenuity helped propel the Allied forces to victory and saved countless lives in the process,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe Inhofe. “These awards recognize the dedicated service performed by those that have been honored here today as well as the men and women who were lost on the battlefields and those who have since passed. After nearly a decade of working to secure the gold medal award, in 2008, Oklahoma Congressman Dan Boren and I were finally able to see the Code Talkers Recognition Act enacted, and I am proud this long awaited ceremony has finally occurred.”
“It’s wonderful that United States Congress is honoring Code Talkers in this way,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Of course, the Cherokee Nation is proud of our contributions to multiple war efforts and our involvement with the Code Talkers, so it’s fitting we commemorate it, especially during Native American Heritage Month.”
Native Americans, and Cherokees in particular, have a longstanding history of serving the military at a higher rate than the general U.S. population. The U.S. military employed Cherokees and other tribal members, such as the Navajo and Choctaw, as Code Talkers to pass messages in their native languages to confuse and bypass enemy forces.
“This is one way to recognize the importance of Native Americans’ service in the defense of the United States,” said Cherokee Nation Veterans Representative Raymond Vann. “Many who served did so at a time when the federal government’s policies toward Indian Nations were unfriendly. Yet, so many Indian people served to fight for freedom, and the Code Talkers served in such an extraordinary way using their language to help turn the tide.”
Edmond Harjo of Seminole Nation in Oklahoma was in attendance and recognized with a congressional silver medal. During the ceremony, Inhofe thanked Harjo for his attendance and for his service to our country, and said: “It was men like Mr. Harjo who made a real difference in the fight for freedom during World War I and II.”
There is no firm number on how many Cherokees were Code Talkers, but the tribe is actively researching that figure.
Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Navy Vietnam veteran, is accepting the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the tribe.
Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors, cabinet members and Cherokee Nation employees who worked with the U.S. Mint to help design the Cherokee Code Talkers coin will also attend.
Having known a code talker himself, Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin noted the importance of telling the story of a very special generation.
“Code talkers were courageous individuals who chose to be a part of history and take on a unique role in war,” said Mullin. “Oklahoma was home to many code talkers including Mr. Wayne Russell, who was a dear family friend and helped me learn Cherokee at a young age. I consider it a privilege to be from a state of such heritage and heroism.”
Each tribe that participated in the code talkers program received a Congressional Gold Medal.
A total of 33 tribes were recognized, 10 being from the state of Oklahoma. Following the Gold Ceremony that recognized tribes as a whole, there was a Silver Medal Ceremony that recognized specific individuals for their service as code talkers. With only one living code talker, family members of departed code talkers accepted the medals on their behalf.
Congress is presenting gold medals designed for each tribe in accordance with the “Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008.”
The act, Public Law 110-420, says Native American Code Talkers, first reported in use on Oct. 17, 1918, deserve immediate recognition for their dedication and valor, long overdue.
The following tribes from Oklahoma received congressional goal medals: Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, Comanche Nation, Pawnee Nation, Osage Tribe, Kiowa Tribe, Seminole Nation, Muskogee Creek Nation, Ponca Tribe, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.