On Monday, President Donald Trump held a White House event, ostensibly honoring the Code Talkers. The Code Talkers have been honored by many American politicians in the last two decades, most notably with the presentation of Congressional Gold Medals to surviving soldiers and their families by member of the U.S. Congress in 2013. My tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation, sent a delegation including our President, Vice President and Traditional Chief, and I was proud to watch that presentation online, and to see the Code Talkers and their families. President Bush also previously honored the Navajo Code Talkers in 2001; President Obama greeted several after his 2012 speech to the Tribal Nations Conference.
After all, Native communities have a strong appreciation for veterans and their service, and Native Americans serve in the military at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States. The contributions of the Code Talkers were particularly important during World War II but remained hidden for decades, as the program — which utilized tribal languages instead of developed codes to allow troops to conduct secure communications — remained classified until 1968. Many non-Native Americans don’t even know that citizens of 33 Native Nations (not just the Navajo) served as Code Talkers, each using their traditional language to safely and securely transmit vital information to protect American and Allied lives.
So one might think that an event in the White House to further honor our elders would be respectful and thoughtful. Unfortunately, as is all too common these days, that’s not how it went down: Trump disrespected the very veterans he was supposed to be honoring in the Oval Office, and reduced the over 500 tribes in the United States to a caricature.