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Native Heritage: Traditions Preserved and Renewed

The Talkers’ Code of Silence

They were called Code Talkers—or just “Talkers”—by their fellow soldiers. But returning home from combat, the Native American Code Talkers had to take an oath of secrecy about their war service. The Talkers were not allowed to talk.

The Code Talkers served the United States military during both world wars and were pivotal to achieving victory in the Pacific. The “codes” they used were based on their Native languages—Navajo, Choctaw, Cherokee, and others. They operated on the front lines, relaying by radio and telegraph vital tactical information faster and more securely than any conventional military code. No message sent by a Code Talker was ever successfully decoded by enemy forces.

Their contribution was considered a critical military secret, and the Code Talkers honored their oath of silence for decades. But this order and combat-related stress took a toll. Many Code Talkers sought and found relief through traditional healing ceremonies.

One such ceremony is the Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony, which uses prayer, talking circles, drumming, sweatlodges, and other traditional healing practices to help relieve the veteran of pre- and post-combat stress and sustain connections with family, community, and Native culture.

Such ceremonies are vital, as Mr. Alfred Gibson, Navajo spiritual leader, has observed: “When soldiers go overseas, we give them warrior ceremonies to armor and protect them against the battle; when the soldier comes back, we have to remove that armor, to help him reconnect with his home.”

Today, the U.S. Veterans Administration and its health professionals support the use of the Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony, as well as other traditional ceremonies, for the health and well-being of Native American veterans returning from war.