The 96-year-old Army veteran and Mohawk Levi Oakes — who joined in the U.S. Army in 1940, served as a code talker in WWII and who was awarded the silver star for his service — was honored in Canada Tuesday.
Louis Levi Oakes lives in Akwesasne, and though he served in the U.S. Army for six years starting in 1940, his family never knew until recently that their father was a code talker in World War II.
Tuesday, he was honored by the Canadian House of Commons, the Assembly of First Nations and was invited to receive a personal meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who thanked him for his service.
At the House of Commons, the Speaker of the House announced an honor to Oakes.
“I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the south gallery of a truly remarkable Canadian. Mr. Louis Levi Oakes of Akwesasne, Quebec is the last surviving Mohawk code talker.
During World War II, the Mohawk language was one of 33 native languages used to send communications between forces. Renowned for having the only unbroken military code in history, the code talkers, including Mr. Oakes, provided an invaluable contribution to the Allied war effort.”
When being recognized, accompanied by thunderous applause, Oakes smiled and gave a thumbs up.
Oakes also received an honor blanket with a star design and AFN beaded medallion necklace. The blanket was draped around Oakes' shoulders by AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde.
Screen capture CBC News video
According to U.S. Army officials and the United States Congress, the Mohawk language was one of the 33 Indigenous languages Native soldiers used to transmit coded messages during combat. The code talkers have the unique distinction of having used the only unbroken code in military history.
The CBC’s Jessica Deer wrote of Levi Oakes verbal response: “Niawen'kó:wa ki' wáhi," he said, meaning 'Great thanks, indeed.'”
In 1940, Levi Oakes enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with the B Company 442 Signal Battalion. He trained as a code talker in Louisiana along with 17 Akwesasne Mohawks. As a code talker, Oakes served in the Philippines, New Guinea, and the South Pacific.
Courtesy Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
After the House of Commons honored Oakes, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller posted to Twitter that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had requested to thank Oakes in person.
Miller Tweeted: “After honouring Levi Oakes in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted to thank Levi personally for his military service as a Mohawk Code Talker. Indigenous languages were indispensable to Allied victory in WWII.”
In an email to Indian Country Today, Miller spoke of the heroism of Levi Oakes.
"Levi Oakes of Akwesasne is one of the last remaining Mohawk Code Talkers and part of an elite group of indigenous soldiers who used over 30 indigenous languages to ensure Allied victory in World War 2. They were willing to sacrifice it all to serve Canada, the United States, and their peoples. When they came back, they often did not get the same benefits as non-Indigenous veterans and remained second or third class citizens. Moreover, the secrecy of this program obscured their heroism. In Levi’s case, he refused to speak of his service until well after the veil of secrecy was lifted on the Code Talker program. He has been recognized by the United States and it was high time a similar courtesy and recognition be extended to him by Canada," wrote Miller.
"In his meeting with the Prime Minister, he lit up and recalled a chance meeting in Boston with the Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. As a country, and on the eve of 2019, a year the UN has called the Year of Indigenous Languages, we owe it to those heroes to ensure the vitality of these languages and as a reminder of those who sacrificed all so that we could live in peace."
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling
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