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Native Words, Native Warriors

Code Talkers

At the Minnesota History Center
Through August 23, 2009

About the Exhibit

When the United States issued the call to arms for World Wars I and II, American Indians answered as warriors. Some discovered that words – in their Native languages – would be their most valued weapons. These American heroes share their stories of strength and courage in the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, “Native Words, Native Warriors.”

Using their native language, “code talkers” were able to transmit secret tactical messages over telephone or radio signals in a way that proved undecipherable by the enemy and helped the Allied forces achieve victory. This exhibit explores the code, battlefield experiences and shift in attitude towards the use of their native language with graphic panels and oral histories from veteran “code talkers.”

“Native Words, Native Warriors” was produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

Minnesota Connections to “Native Words, Native Warriors”

While the story of Navajo Code Talkers is relatively well-known, there were also Dakota and Ojibwe Code Talkers from Minnesota active during World War II. As with the Navajo-encoded messages, using Dakota- and Ojibwe-speaking soldiers proved to be faster and more secure than using traditional military encoding devices. Among the Dakota Code Talkers were John Cavender of the Upper Sioux Community near Granite Falls and Reuben St. Clair of the Lower Sioux Community near Morton.

The Minnesota Historical Society is seeking people who have information about American Indian Code Talkers with connections to Minnesota, especially those who used Ojibwe or Dakota. If you have such information, please contact Travis Zimmerman, American Indian Liaison, at travis.zimmerman@mnhs.org or 320-532-3632.


The exhibition was made possible in part thanks to the generous support of Elizabeth Hunter Solomon. Additional support has been provided by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and the AMB Foundation.