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Courtesy photo by Richie Richards of Native Sun News.

Code talker medal exhibit to honor Native Americans, veterans

By Jenice Johnson, assistant director of marketing and communications

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While it may not be common knowledge, the code talkers of World War I and World War II were not just from the Navajo nation.

Code talkers are the Native Americans who used their languages to secretly communicate during wartime. Tribal members from the Lakota, Nakota and the Dakota of the Great Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin) were some of the many who served in this role. The South Dakota National Guard is honoring these individuals by bringing a traveling Code Talker Congressional Medallion exhibit to South Dakota cities in October through November in observance of Native American Heritage Month.

To show support, Tanka Bar is sponsoring the event, which sprung out of brainstorming sessions in SDNG's Diversity Council meetings. James Bad Wound (Standing Rock Sioux) is a committee chair of the council as well as the father of Native American Natural Foods' business manager, Dawn Sherman.

"This event is near and dear to me. Our family has a long history of military and my husband is also retired military," Mrs. Sherman (Shawnee and Delaware) said. "I wanted to make this successful because people do not realize the sacrifice that Native Americans have made. We didn't only fight for our rights -- we also fought for the country."

Mr. Bad Wound said one of the reasons the public may not be aware of code talkers from various tribes is because US Army records of their names were not kept. In addition to the fact that many of the individuals who served as code talkers kept that information secret from even their families until their deaths. They just didn't know whether or not they would be called to duty once again. He even recalled an encounter with the son of a code talker who had no idea until recently that his own father served as one.

"Back then if you told a family member, you might have put them in danger too," Mr. Bad Wound said."

The Oceti Sakowin Code Talker Congressional Medallion exhibit will stand as a living testament of what these servicemen accomplished and protected. The exhibit will be open for public viewing from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mountain Time on each scheduled date listed below along with an honor ceremony beginning at 11:11 a.m. The ceremony will include a featured speaker from the SDNG and highlight the service of code talker veterans and their families from all local tribes.

Exhibit dates and locations are:

* October 14 - Pierre: Indian Learning Center, New Gym, 3001 E. Sully Ave.

* October 21 - Watertown: Lake Area Technical Institute, 1201 Arrow Ave., Student Event Center (level 4)

* October 28 - TBD

* November 11/Veterans Day - Crazy Horse Memorial, Welcome Center. This will serve as a celebratory conclusion to the exhibit and will include a blast honoring all veterans at 11:11 a.m. Mountain Time

The South Dakota National Guard has also partnered with the SDNG Museum, SD Department of Veterans Affairs, Crazy Horse Memorial, Tanka, Black Hills Area Council #695, Boy Scouts of America, Throwback Softball, Sperlich Consulting, Women Veterans of the Black Hills and the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce to host the events.

Pictured above: Photo by Richie Richards Front L-R: Carstin Jerzak, Edith Clemmons, Tamra Sime, Lynn Wilson, Larry Zimmerman. Back L-R: Cleve Janis, Bill White, Anthony Deiss, Jim Bad Wound, Stephanie Kinsella (Not Picture: Mitchell Nachtigall, James Fleming, Promise Crawford, Richard Kirkpatrick, Matt Christensen, Chris Montileaux, Shane Steinhour, Lonny Hofer, Debbie Leber, Amanda Allcock, Tim Bouchard, Renel Hall-Beck, John Mallinger, John Weber)


The Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 (Act) (Public Law 110-420) required the Secretary of the Treasury to strike Congressional Medals in recognition of the dedication and valor of Native American code talkers to the U.S. Armed Services during World War I and World War II. "Code talkers" refers to those Native Americans who used their tribal languages as a means of secret communication during wartime.

Under the Act, unique gold medals were struck for each Native American tribe that had a member who served as a code talker. Silver duplicate medals were presented to the specific code talkers, their next of kin, or other personal representatives. In addition, bronze duplicates are available for sale to the public.

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