Private First Class Jack Nez (left), Fort Defiance, AZ, and Private First Class Carl Gorman, Chinle, AZ, man their observation post on a hill overlooking Garapan on Saipan Island.Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps. American Indian Code Talkers.


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

“It's strange, but growing up as a child I was forbidden to speak my Native language at school. Later my country asked me to. My language helped win the war and that makes me very proud. Very proud.” — Charles Chibitty (Comanche), U.S. Army

American Indian code talkers. Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps.When the United States issued the call to arms in World Wars I and II, American Indians answered as warriors. Some men discovered that words—in their Native languages—would be their most valued weapons. Crackling over the airwaves and telephone lines, the code talkers’ messages proved indecipherable to the enemy and helped the United States achieve victory in combat. Decades later, the U.S. government declassified the code talker programs, paving the way for the participants’ long-overdue recognition.

Native Words, Native Warriors tells the remarkable story of Indian soldiers from more than a dozen tribes who used their Native languages in the service of the U.S. military. Developed with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, this inspiring 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.

>> Native Words website

>> Educational resources from Northeastern State University, Oklahoma

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Exhibition Specifications


15 freestanding banners with text and graphics

Supplemental 11-min. DVD (venue provides equipment), educational website, educational and promotional resources, speakers list, bibliography, film guide
Participation Fee

$1,700 for 10-week booking period

Size 150 running feet (45 running meters)
Crates 4
Weight 455 lbs.
Category History & Culture
Security Limited
Shipping Outgoing; host museum arranges shipping and pays carrier directly
SITES Contacts

Minnie Russell, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)
Katherine Krile, 202.633.3108 (Content)

Tour Through October 2014
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Tour Itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
10/28/2006 1/07/2007 Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, Arkansas City, KS Booked
1/27/2007 4/08/2007 The Air Zoo, Portage, MI Booked
4/28/2007 7/08/2007 Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO Booked
7/28/2007 10/7/2007 The Barrington Area Historical Society, Barrington, IL Booked
10/27/2007 1/6/2008 Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park, Phoenix, AZ Booked
1/26/2008 4/6/2008 Museum of Western Art, Kerrville, TX Booked
4/26/2008 7/6/2008 The Air Museum Planes of Fame, Chino, CA Booked
7/26/2008 10/5/2008 Salmon Ruins Museum and Research Library, Bloomfield, NM Booked
10/25/2008 1/4/2009 Frontiers of Flight Museum, Dallas, TX Booked
4/25/2009 7/5/2009 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Clewiston, FL Booked
7/25/2009 10/4/2009 Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, GA Booked
10/24/2009 1/3/2010 Spartanburg County Public Library, Spartanburg, SC Booked
2/19/2010 4/4/2010 Roland Park Country School, Baltimore, MD Booked
4/24/2010 7/4/2010 In Their Own Words...A Veterans Museum, Perham, MN Booked
7/24/2010 10/3/2010 Kingsport Public Library, Kingsport, TN Booked
10/23/2010 01/02/2011 Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT Booked
1/22/2011 7/4/2011 National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, VA Booked
Extension Tour Dates      
7/23/2011 10/2/2011 Wisconsin Maritime Museum, Manitowoc, WI Booked
10/22/2011 1/1/2012 Charlotte Museum of History, Charlotte, NC Booked
1/21/2012 4/1/2012 California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA Booked
4/21/2012 7/1/2012 Petaluma Historical Museum, Petaluma, CA Booked
7/21/2012 9/30/2012 Grout Museum of History and Science, Waterloo, IA Booked
10/20/2012 3/31/2013 Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ Booked
4/20/2013 6/30/2013 Wyandotte County Historical Museum, Bonner Springs, KS Booked
7/20/2013 9/29/2013 Idaho Museum of Natural History, Pocatello, ID Booked
10/19/2013 12/29/2013 Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, TX Booked
01/25/2014- 04/06/2014 John Vaughan Library, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK Booked
04/26/2014- 07/06/2014 Suquamish Museum, Suquamish, WA Booked
08/02/2014- 10/05/2014 Butler County History Center & Kansas Oil Museum, El Dorado, KS Booked
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Related Publications

Exhibition guide, Spanish language
Read the full-length exhibition script


Native Words, Native Warriors Spanish-language exhibition guide
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Press Release


Media only: Jennifer Schommer (202) 633-3121
Public only: (202) 633-1000

Stories of American Indian Code Talkers Revealed in New
Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition

“My language was my weapon.” —David Patterson (Navajo), 4th Div., U.S. Marine Corps.

When the United States issued the call to arms in World Wars I and II, American Indians answered as warriors. Some men discovered that words—in their Native languages—would be their most valued weapons. These American heroes will share their stories of strength and courage in a new Smithsonian traveling exhibition.

Native Words, Native Warriors, developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), will tell the remarkable story of soldiers from more than a dozen tribes who used their Native languages while in service in the U.S. military. This inspiring exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous support of donor Elizabeth Hunter Solomon. Additional support has been provided by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and the AMB Foundation.

Native Words, will premiere at the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum in Arkansas City, Kan., on Oct. 28 and will continue on a national tour through 2011. A second copy of the exhibition, organized for travel by the National Museum of the American Indian, will open at the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City on Nov. 6 and will remain on tour through 2008. The launch of the exhibition in Oklahoma and Kansas will coincide with the November celebrations of American Indian Heritage Month and Veterans Day.

The U.S. military first enlisted American Indians to relay messages in their Native languages during World War I, even though the United States did not consider American Indians citizens until 1924. These encoded messages proved undecipherable by the enemy and helped the United States achieve victory.

The involvement of the code talkers expanded during World War II. Soldiers from the Comanche, Meskwaki, Sioux, Crow, Hopi and Cree nations, among others, took part in the effort. The best known of these projects is the formerly classified Navajo Code Talker Program, established by the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1942. The encoded messages proved to be a fast, accurate and indecipherable-to-the-enemy alternative, which suited the demands of the battlefield better than the painfully slow military devices that had been standard.

Twenty-three years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government declassified the Navajo and Comanche code talker programs and revealed America’s unsung heroes. In 1999 the U.S. Army presented the last surviving Comanche code talker with a the Knowlton award for outstanding intelligence work, and in 2001 President George W. Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to four of the five living veterans of the original 29 Navajo code talkers.

Through oral histories taken from the veterans themselves, “ Native Words” celebrates and honors this important but little-reported aspect of American history. In addition to 15 large-scale banners, the exhibition will include videos examining the development of the code, battlefield experiences and the sharp turnaround many of them experienced as they transitioned from Indian boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their Native language to using it as their call to duty for their country.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is an institution of living cultures dedicated to advancing knowledge and understanding of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at

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Exhibition Specifications

Tour Itinerary

Exhibition Images

Related Publications

Press Release

In the News

Bibliographic Sources


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