- Choctaw Code Talkers by Valerie Red-Horse, Gale Anne Hurd, Stacy Mahoney
Choctaw Code Talkers is an exceptional film and should be included in all Indigenous studies programs and libraries. The film documents the contributions of the Choctaw code talkers during World War I through the voices of their relatives, tribal historians and leadership, and foreign heads of state.
The film is thoroughly researched and tells in detail the events leading up to the First World War, the reasons why the Choctaw chose to serve in a war for the United States even when they were not considered citizens, and all prior to the establishment of the Veterans Administration in 1930, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the gi Bill of Rights, and the Office of Tribal Government Relations within the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The film chronicles how the Choctaw serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in 1918 used their traditional language to send secure messages and communication between the Allied forces. Prior to the Choctaw code talkers taking command of the sending and receiving of messages, the German forces had intercepted and deciphered the Allied forces’ radio codes, tapped their phone lines, and captured their message runners. The Choctaw code talkers created a secure military communication connection for the Allied forces while on the battlefield. Many in the film credit the curtailing of the heavy bloodshed and the eventual end of World War I to the Choctaw code talkers’ communication efforts.
The film interweaves archival photos, film footage, news archives, and graphics with present-day interviews to tell a very engaging, moving, and at times hard-to-digest story of the Choctaw code talkers. At the height of the war conflict, the Choctaw code talkers were actively using their language and communication abilities to assist in sending secure military messages for the Allied forces. However, the Choctaw code talkers were told not to speak of their contributions to end the war. The Choctaw then returned home to endure personal and physical hardship as the result of their poor health caused by being exposed to poison gas. Again, this was long before the establishment of the Veterans Administration [End Page 385] in 1930, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the gi Bill of Rights, and the Office of Tribal Government Relations within the US Department of Veterans Affairs, so obtaining support and services for the Choctaw veterans proved to be improbable for many families.
Many Choctaws volunteered in 1915 to serve in the war two years before the United States officially entered the war in 1917. The nineteen Choctaw code talkers were from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and were the first code talkers. They paved the way for the Cheyenne and Navajo code talkers and the more formalized code talker military groups to come later in World War II.
What is often hard to comprehend is that the Choctaw code talkers’ military contributions went unrecognized for decades by the US military and the US government. Despite the turbulent history between the United States and Native nations, it is still a sobering fact to accept that the Choctaw and other Native Americans have served and died in wars for a country that did not acknowledge their service and contributions.
On November 3, 1989, when France awarded the Choctaw code talkers their Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite (Knight of the Order of National Merit) for their contributions during the Great War. It is a pivotal point in the film to hear from the French government officials just how much the Choctaw’s contributions meant to their country.
Eventually, the 110th Congress passed Bill HR 4544, or the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008. The act awarded medals to the Native American code talkers for their service during World War I and World War II. The bill was introduced on December 17, 2007, and it officially became public law on October 15, 2008.
The film is a great opportunity to educate all viewers about the contributions the Choctaw...