Muscogee (Creek) Nation Museum and Cultural Center
Native Words, Native Warriors Exhibit Coming from Smithsonian to Muscogee (Creek) Nation
OKMULGEE, OK – In honor of Native American Heritage Month and Veterans Day, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Museum and Cultural Center is hosting a special exhibit featuring Native American servicemen and servicewomen which is scheduled to open on Veterans Day 2011 in the Veterans Affairs Services Building at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Complex in Okmulgee.
The exhibit is titled Native Words, Native Warriors and was produced by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition was made possible in part thanks to the generous support of Elizabeth Hunter Solomon, the Smithsonian Women's Committee, and the AMB Foundation.
The exhibit will be enhanced by extensive displays of Muscogee veteran mementoes, awards, uniforms, and documents. Additional recognition of Muscogee veterans will appear on newly designed panels of historic photos and stories that complement those coming from the NMAI.
Native Words, Native Warriors tells the remarkable stories of Native American soldiers who used their Native languages as weapons to aid the U.S. military during World Wars I and II. These soldiers came from many tribes: Assiniboine, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Chippewa, Choctaw, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Dakota Sioux, Hopi, Kiowa, Lakota Sioux, Menominee, Meskwaki, Muscogee, Navajo, Oneida, Pawnee, and Seminole. These tribes helped the military on more than one continent, on the seas, and in more than one war. As early as October 1918, during World War I, Choctaw soldiers in northern France used their language to save American soldiers. The Germans had intercepted and decoded almost every message the Americans sent. Eight fluent Choctaw soldiers became the very first to use their Native language to send secret messages in modern warfare that were never decoded.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to America entering World War II, the U.S. Army once again sought Native language speakers. The Army recruited Comanche, Choctaw, Hopi, Cherokee, and Muscogee as well as other tribes to transmit messages in their Native languages on European and African battlefields.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, fourteen Comanche Code Talkers were serving in the 4th Signal Corps, 4th Division, U.S. Army and hit Utah Beach at Normandy as part of the great invasion. Their language helped turn back the Nazis at St. Lo and again in the Battle of the Bulge.
The Navajo code talkers of World War II have had the most exposure in documentaries and motion pictures. Their assignment was to develop a formal code for messages that even native Navajo speakers would not be able to interpret. They had to memorize over 200 code terms, but the number of code terms tripled during the war. Since the ancient Native languages did not include modern terms of warfare, code talkers used clan names, called various aircraft by the names of different birds and adapted other animal names to fill in for tanks and other war machines. For example, the Comanche called bombers “pregnant birds”. Such operations were kept secret for many years. In fact, it was not until 1968, 23 years after World War II ended, that the United States government declassified the Navajo code talker program. Once the required silence was broken, many Native servicemen received their long overdue recognition.
Since Native peoples have a rich warrior heritage, it is hoped that the subject matter and messages within this exhibit will resonate with tribal members in the state and that non-Native people will better understand the roles played by Native languages in the two World Wars.
The Muscogee people are very proud of their veterans, of their patriotism, and of their history of military service, so it seemed appropriate to expand the exhibit to feature Muscogee veteran heroes who have served in World War I through current conflicts. To that end, John Beaver, Museum Director and Curator, enlisted the help of Shawn Taryole, Technical Media Specialist for the Muscogee Veterans Affairs Office and a talented graphic artist. “I truly enjoyed doing this work, working with the photos and producing the creative layouts,” explains Mr. Taryole who created all of the supplemental panels to complement those coming from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Mr. Beaver was pleased to work with the Muscogee Veterans Affairs on both the setting for the exhibit and on part of its content. “Mr. Ken Davis (Director of Veterans Affairs) knew the stories of our veterans, and Mr. Taryole is very good at putting it together. Both gentlemen were terrific to work with.”
The end result is a presentation of riveting accounts of military service in all branches and stories of heroism that will speak to the heart.
While the Muscogee (Creek) Museum and Cultural Center is still in its design phase Mr. Beaver is excited to be presenting this high quality exhibit now, as a prelude to what the Museum will eventually be able to offer.
There is no admission charge for the exhibit which will run November 11 through February 29, 2012 in the Veterans Affairs building at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Complex located on Highway 75 and Loop 56 in Okmulgee. Student groups are welcome. For more information, call Muscogee Tourism & Recreation at 918-732-7992 or visit www.muscogeenation-nsn.gov.
For an online version of the Smithsonian Native Words, Native Warriors Exhibit, please visit http://www.nmai.si.edu/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html
- Betty Gerber, Ed.D.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Museum Oversight Committee