It came as a surprise to many that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe contributed more native code talkers than any other in service to their country in wars overseas. The tribe recently honored the 45 soldiers who served as code talkers in World War I and the one who served in World War II. They all are long dead now, some killed on the battlefield. Relatives accepted the medals in a ceremony posthumously recognizing the men for their sacrifices and contributions.
Medals for each of the soldiers, and a gold medal for the tribe, were first presented in a ceremony in November in Washington following the Code Talkers Recognition Act, which Congress passed in 2008 bestowing official recognition that was long overdue. Many of the men’s families were unaware of their service as wartime code talkers. The men had honored a code of silence, since it was important to keep the military use of native languages as code a secret.
The contributions of American Indians using their native language in service to their country is especially poignant given the government’s policy years ago of suppressing native tongues and the practice of native religion in a campaign of assimilation. As a result, native fluent speakers are dying off, although language preservation programs are now at work on many reservations.
Although the Navajo tribe is perhaps best known for providing code talkers, Standing Rock is credited with supplying more than any other among the 33 tribes to provide native speakers in combat. Seven of the code talkers from Standing Rock, where Lakota and Nakota are the native languages, were killed in action and buried on foreign soil; another later died from his wounds.
The service of the code talkers is just a more exotic form of the military service that is so common among American Indians, whose men and women serve in military service in proportion that is greater than the general population.
“These are heroes finally being recognized,” David Archambault II, Standing Rock tribal chairman, said on the day of the ceremony. “It was a long time coming, but it is finally here.” We commend the code talkers for their service and we say philámayaye, Lakota for thank you.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board wrote this opinion.