WASHINGTON — There was a sense of wonderment at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony here Wednesday honoring American Indian code talkers.
Not just at the bravery and achievements of the soldiers who used their native languages to pass on crucial information during the world wars of the last century. But that they would do it for a country that so mistreated them.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a Chickasaw, noted that some of the code talkers were “barred from full participation in American life” as they were risking their lives. U.S. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., said the code talkers used their skills “defending a country that did not always keep its word to their ancestors.”
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recited a litany of offenses directed at Indians throughout U.S. history
“The government told them their language had no value, but the children held on to their languages, culture and history, despite great personal risk,” Reid said. “And in this nation's hour of greatest need, these same Native American languages proved to have great value indeed.”
Congress honored the code talkers of 33 tribes on Wednesday and presented gold medals to tribal representatives. Cole and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, were among those speaking at the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Inhofe and former Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat who represented eastern Oklahoma, won the recognition for the code talkers after many years of trying. Though the Navajo code talkers received Congressional Gold Medals in 2001, it was seven years later before Congress cleared legislation for the other tribes.
Choctaw Nation Chief Greg Pyle said Wednesday that he and other tribal officials, including Judy Allen, worked for six years on the effort. Pyle said he also worked with Comanche Nation officials.
“We came up here week after week after week to get supporters of the bill,” Pyle said in an interview. “We're so proud for the families to get this honor to finally be recognized as some of the original code talkers.”