Society OPG Local member Pat Oakes was presented with a Congressional Silver Medal of Honour from the United States government for her father’s extraordinary service as an Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talker during World War II.
The May 28 ceremony on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation finally provided the recognition owed to the Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talkers, which had been denied for decades. Native Americans used their mother tongues during World War II to send messages because the enemy could not decipher their language.
As New York State assemblywoman Addie J. Russell noted in her remarks during the ceremony, according to the local Indian Time coverage of the event, there is a bittersweet irony to the role the Code Talkers played given the history of American colonialism and cultural genocide against Native Americans that is not dissimilar to the way Canada treated Aboriginal peoples.
“The irony of the underlying reason we are gathered today is not lost on me. It was civil disobedience against an oppressive government that eventually proved critical to saving that government and her allies,” stated Assemblywoman Russell.
For Pat Oakes, a member of The Society’s Aboriginal Relations Committee, it was an honour to be chosen to represent her family on behalf of her father, Alex Oakes, who passed away eight years ago.
In a note to her colleagues, Pat described some of her father’s World War II service.
“My father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne – the very first Airborne Division of the U.S. Army,” Pat wrote. “He parachuted into St. Marie Eglise the night before D-Day, he was part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, as well as the Battle of the Bulge.”
In addition to this posthumous Silver Medal, Alex Oakes earlier received two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star for Valor.
Two other Oakes family relations received a Silver Medal on May 28, including Pat’s cousins Louis Stanley Conners and Louis Levi Oakes, who at 94-years-old is the only living member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talkers.
The Akwesasne Mohawk Code Talkers are one of 33 Native American tribes who used their respective languages to communicate in code during World War II. In 2008, the United States Congress passed the Code Talker Recognition Act to honour Native Americans’ contributions to the war.