UTTC Pow-Wow honors WWI veterans

Sep 11, 2017

Pow-wow participants honor WWI veterans.
Credit Lisa Johnson / KUMD/Duluth

Native American veterans of World War One were honored at the annual United Tribes Pow-Wow this weekend in Bismarck.

They served even though at the time, they were not recognized as citizens of the United States.

"Native Americans were the largest per-capita in America to serve in the Great War<" said National World War One Centennial Commission member Terry Hamby. "There were 12,000 Native Americans that served. Over 800 gave their lives."

Hamby said he hopes the UTTC event will help tell a story that should be told.

"Native Americans have always been warriors, and they loved the land," Hamby said. "They joined the military to protect the land, and to protect those people that couldn't protect themselves."

Hamby said when they came back from the war, they talked very little about it.

"There's been a new, vibrant resurgence in interest across the United States, honoring and memorializing those who served, and perished," said World War One Centennial Project Manager Susan Mennenga, with the Pritzger Military Museum and Library in Chicago. She came to the pow-wow.

United Tribes is planning to build a memorial with the names of Native Americans who served in the first World War. It plans to dedicate that memorial in 2018.

World War One Centennial Commission member Terry Hamby.
Credit Lisa Johnson / KUMD/Duluth

A lot has been said and written about “code talkers” in World War Two – mainly Native American soldiers who spoke both English and Navajo, and who used the Navajo language to pass information and prevent it from being intercepted by the enemy.

But code talking actually originated in the first World War.

"Company commanders realized that when they talked about their battle plans on field telephones, the Germans would tap those field phones," Hamby said. "When we made the attack, the Germans were ready for us."

Hamby said one company commander overheard two Chocktaw Indian soldiers speaking  in their native language.

"He stopped and asked them, 'What are you talking in?'" Hamby said. "They replied, 'It's our native language.' And the commander said, 'Do you have brothers or friends in other units?' And the answer was 'Yes.'"

Hamby said the Native Americans were able to communicate battle plans using that language. He said it greatly shortened the length of the war.