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NEWS | Nov. 27, 2020

NSA Honors American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage

During the month of November, the National Security Agency (NSA) is honoring the American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN) heritage during Native American Heritage Month. This month’s theme, “Resilient and Enduring: We Are Native People” is a message that especially rings true this year to the Native community and our nation.

In May of 1916, the nation’s first American Indian Day was declared by the governor of New York. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. President to designate November as National American Indian Heritage Month and each year since 1994, U.S. presidents have honored the community’s heritage with similar proclamations.

Many Americans are unaware of the services American Indian and Alaska Native veterans have contributed throughout history. The contributions of the Native American Code Talkers is one instance widely recognized by NSA today. Native American Code Talkers were first used in combat late during the First World War. At this time, a small group of Choctaw Indians would communicate in their native language, substituting routine words for military terms.

The National American Indian Veterans Memorial was opened on Veterans Day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The National American Indian Veterans Memorial was opened on Veterans Day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The National American Indian Veterans Memorial was opened on Veterans Day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The National American Indian Veterans Memorial at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
The National American Indian Veterans Memorial was opened on Veterans Day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Photo By: NSA
VIRIN: 201125-D-IM742-1235

During World War II, the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army recruited and trained code talkers to improve the encryption and decryption of front-line communications. Messages were encoded and decoded in two ways: the first substituted each letter of an English word, with words from the native language; the second directly translated words from English to the native language. While the Navajo language is widely associated with Native American code talkers, at least ten additional native languages were also incorporated.

This year, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened the National American Veterans Memorial to honor native Veterans and their families. This memorial, which was opened to the public on Veteran’s Day, sits on the museum’s memorial grounds. The museum specifies that the memorial incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection, and lances where visitors can tie cloths for prayers, remembrance, reflection and healing.

We continue to honor the resilient and enduring legacy of American Indians and Alaska Natives this year and years to come.

For more information about Native American’s contributions to NSA, visit the National Cryptologic Museum’s virtual Code Talker exhibit or read about the cryptologic contributions of former NSA employee, Bob Bailey.