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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.


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Atsá means “eagle” to a Navajo. Paaki is the Hopi word for “houses on water.” To a specially trained Navajo or Hopi soldier during World War II, however, the words indicated “transport plane” and “ships.” During both World Wars, hundreds of Native American soldiers served the United States by using their Native languages to send and receive secret messages. These encoded messages proved undecipherable to the enemy and helped the U.S. achieve victory.

American Indian Code Talkers, developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and SITES, tells the remarkable story of these American heroes and highlights the cultural backgrounds that made possible their unique and valuable contribution to the war effort.

The U.S. military first enlisted American Indians to relay messages during World War I. Two fundamental components of Native culture—warrior traditions and spoken languages of extreme complexity—were combined to great effect. Although the U.S. government did not consider American Indians to be citizens until 1924, soldiers from at least six Indian nations served the military during the war.

Soldiers from the Navajo, Hopi, Comanche, Choctaw, Chippewa/Oneida, Menominee, Sac and Fox, Sioux, Crow, Mississauga, and Cree Nations took part in similar efforts during World War II. The best known of these projects is now the formerly classified Navajo Code Talker Program, established by the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1942. The program started with 29 Navajo volunteers who created a system of code words and were trained in radio communications. In all, more than 380 Navajo code talkers were sent to Marine units in the Pacific, where they relayed information about troop movements and battle plans.

American Indian Code Talkers provides an ideal opportunity to celebrate this important but little-reported aspect of American history.

See Bibliographic Sources

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Exhibition Specifications


Large-scale, freestanding color banners with accompanying labels and text

Supplemental Brochure, educational resource list, speaker list, bibliography, film guide, promotional resources
Participation Fee

To Be Determined

Running Feet (Meters) 65 running feet (20 running meters), est.
Square Feet (Meters)  
Crates To Be Determined
Weight To Be Determined
Category History & Culture
Security Limited
Shipping Outgoing; host museum arranges shipping and pays carrier directly
SITES Contacts

Michelle Torres-Carmona to schedule, 202.633.3143
Katherine Krile for content, 202.633.3108

Tour Begins October 2006

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Tour Itinerary: (Tour dates will be posted soon)

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None listed at this time. Please check back later.  

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Press Releases and Features


Preview of New Smithsonian Code Talker Exhibition at Olympics

A kiosk version of "American Indian Code Talkers," a Smithsonian traveling exhibition in development, premiered at the Navajo Nation Pavilion at the Olympic Arts Festival in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1, and will remain on view until Feb. 24.

The story of the American Indian code talker is told through text and a language chart, which translates Navajo, Comanche, Hopi and Choctaw code. This information is displayed on a 3.3-feet-by-3.3-feet kiosk, which stands about 8.2 feet tall. The kiosk will complement the Navajo Nation's display on the work of Navajo code talkers during World War II, which is part of a larger exhibit, "Discover Navajo: People of the Fourth World".

During the two World Wars of the 20th century, hundreds of Native American soldiers served their country by lending their Native languages to the task of sending secret messages. The most celebrated of these are the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II; however, the Navajos were not the only code talkers. Soldiers from the Hopi, Creek, Comanche, Choctaw, Chippewa, Oneida, Kiowa, Menominee, Muscogee, Seminole, Pawnee, Sac and Fox, and Sioux nations took part in similar missions, using their own Native languages.

"American Indian Code Talkers," a major traveling exhibition in preparation, will begin a tour of the United States in 2005. The exhibition is planned to be developed by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

The Museum of the American Indian is dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of Native Americans. In 2004, museum will open its doors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The museum's George Gustav Heye Center opened in 1994 in New York City and hosts exhibitions, music and dance programs, films, and other symposia. For additional information, please visit

Each year, SITES shares a wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people around the country. In 2002, SITES celebrates 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage.

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