Code talkers' stories revealed in new exhibition
WASHINGTON ñ When the United States issued the call to arms in World War I and World War II, American Indians answered as warriors. Some men discovered that words ñ in their Native languages ñ would be their most valued weapons. These American heroes share their stories of strength and courage in a new Smithsonian traveling exhibition. ìNative Words, Native Warriors,î developed by the Smithsonianís National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, will tell the remarkable story of soldiers from more than a dozen tribes who used their Native languages while in service in the U.S. military. ìNative Wordsî premiered at the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum in Arkansas City, Kan., on Oct. 28 and will continue on a national tour through 2011. A second copy of the exhibition, organized for travel by the NMAI, opened at the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City on Nov. 10 and will remain on tour through 2008. The launch of the exhibition in Oklahoma and Kansas coincided with the November celebrations of American Indian Heritage Month and Veterans Day. The U.S. military first enlisted American Indians to relay messages in their Native languages during World War I, even though the United States did not consider American Indians citizens until 1924. These encoded messages proved undecipherable by the enemy and helped the United States achieve victory. Soldiers from the Comanche, Meskwaki, Sioux, Crow, Hopi and Cree nations, among others, took part in the effort. Historically, American Indians represent the highest number of service personnel per capita of any racial or ethnic group. The involvement of the code talkers expanded during World War II. The best-known of these projects is the formerly classified Navajo Code Talker Program, established by the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1942. The encoded messages proved to be a fast, accurate and indecipherable-to-the-enemy alternative, which suited the demands of the battlefield better than the painfully slow military devices that had been standard. Twenty-three years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government declassified the Navajo and Comanche code talker programs and revealed Americaís unsung heroes. Through oral histories taken from the soldiers themselves, ìNative Wordsî celebrates and honors this important but little-reported aspect of American history. In addition to 15 large-scale banners, the exhibition includes videos examining the development of the code, battlefield experiences and the sharp turnaround many of them experienced as they transitioned from Indian boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their Native language to using it as their call to duty for their country. SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.