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Cole's Floor Speech on Native American Code Talkers Recognition Bill

September 24, 2008

Washington, D.C. – Last night Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) gave the following statement from the House floor in support of legislation he cosponsored, H.R. 4544, a bill recognizing the important contributions made by Native American Code Talkers in the wars of the last century.

I thank my good friend from West Virginia for yielding so graciously.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in support of H.R. 4544, the Code Talkers Recognition Act, which would award the Congressional Gold Medal to Native American Code Talkers who assisted the allied powers in World War I and World War II to deceive and confuse our enemies in both conflicts. It's a particular personal pleasure to me, Mr. Speaker, because not only am I a Native American, Chickasaw, but my ancestry is both Choctaw and Chickasaw. My great grandfather had both tribes in his veins. And it's a wonderful treat for me to be able to participate in this.

I would also first like to thank my dear friend and colleague, Mr. Boren, who introduced this legislation and without whose hard work this bill would simply not be here today. He has worked hard and tirelessly to honor a group of Americans that deserve recognition. And I appreciate it so much, my dear friend.

To date only the famous Navaho Wind Talkers have received this prestigious award, and it's only right and proper, Mr. Speaker, that Congress finally recognize all of the Code Talkers that dedicated their service to the United States of America. As an Oklahoman and as the only Native American currently serving in Congress, I am very happy to be here before you today to participate in awarding this honor to these fine individuals and their tribes.

Native Americans have a long, complex and honorable relationship with the United States military. Native Americans have fought against and with the United States military throughout the entire history of our country. And despite the often egregious policies of our government towards Indian country, thousands of Native Americans from dozens of tribes have helped protect our homeland. Indeed the first allies of the United States in the Revolution were the Oneida tribe. There was the Seneca present with Grant when he accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee. As a matter of fact Robert E. Lee called him the only real American present at the ceremony. And of course in the Plains wars in the West, Indians fought on both sides of the conflict. Indeed our first President, General Washington, once commented the only way to defeat Native Americans was to be allied with Native Americans against other Native Americans because they were formidable and elusive foes.

Over the course of American history, Native Americans have demonstrated outstanding valor on the battlefield. And they have consistently received awards and commendations for their outstanding service. Historically Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group or demographic group in our country. There are currently over 190,000 Native American veterans.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation awards the congressional medal to 13 individual tribes whose members assisted in this effort of defending our country. By using Native languages that were unidentifiable to the enemy forces in Europe and in the Pacific, the Code Talkers contributed to the victory of allied powers in both the First and the Second World Wars. Without their efforts it is clear that we would have lost countless additional lives and wars would have dragged on longer than necessary. Though most Native Americans did not even have United States citizenship in the First World War, there were a few. My tribe actually did. And we were pretty good negotiators. And most Oklahoma tribes got theirs a little bit ahead. But most tribes and most members who served in our Armed Forces were not citizens. They volunteered their service to defend their country despite that lack of citizenship.

It is estimated that more than 12,000 American Indians and about 600 Oklahoma tribal members served the United States military in the First World War. Despite the fact that most in the United States considered their heritage and their language to be obsolete in the first decade of the 20th century, these individuals volunteered for their country and helped turn the tide in one of the bloodiest wars in human history.

In 1917 a group of eight Choctaw serving in the Army's 36th Infantry Division trained to use their language in code. They helped the American Expeditionary Force win several key battles in the final big push of the war. Other tribes continued to be recruited into the service of our country in later conflicts. Almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War, the Army recruited members of the Comanche Nation, located in my district, to assist the Allied Forces. Throughout the war other tribes were also recruited to carry out these efforts. And throughout that conflict, the Axis powers could neither decipher the codes based on Native language nor significantly undermine efforts to communicate in that language. The use of these languages significantly improved the tactical efforts of the Allied powers. These efforts were certainly remarkable, Mr. Speaker, and the contribution of these men clearly deserves to be recognized by Congress.

Mr. Speaker, Native American Code Talkers of the First and Second World War are true American heroes without whose efforts our troops would have certainly suffered greater casualties and would have certainly experienced slower progress in their efforts to end these conflicts. For too long our country has failed to recognize the efforts made by these great Native American citizens. It is time that we acknowledge and honor the contributions and service of these Native Americans who dedicated their service to our country by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.

I urge Members to honor these courageous men and their tribes and vote "yes'' on H.R. 4544.