Before the Second World War, the Canadian and American historical context for Indigenous peoples was still, by and large, colonial in nature. The recession of the Dirty Thirties, the oppression of the residential and boarding school system, unemployment — to say nothing of the sub-par conditions on many reserves — led many Indigenous peoples, including the Métis, to view enlistment as a way of escaping the poverty of the reserve for a better life. Others saw the war as an opportunity to serve their country.
Cree Code Talker is a short documentary focusing on the journey of Charles “Checker” Tomkins during the Second World War. It also shows the crucial roles played by Canadian Aboriginal-Métis servicewomen and servicemen in protecting Allied secrets during the war. Sworn not to talk about their missions, many Cree code talkers have since died, taking their secrets with them to the grave. Unlike Native Americans — such as the Navajo in the U.S., who have been recognized by their country for their bravery — Canada’s Cree code talkers have never been officially acknowledged for their contributions.
Boye Ladd is a member of the Zuni and Ho-Chunk Nations. His Indigenous name, Coming Home Laughing, was given to him by an uncle who fought during the Second World War. A long-time powwow dancer, educator, and storyteller, Boye is an American Vietnam Combat Veteran who served with Charlie Company, 75th Infantry Regiment (Airborne Rangers).
John Moses is a member of the Delaware and Upper Mohawk bands, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. He served in the Canadian Forces from 1980 to 1985, including as a signals intelligence operator (communicator research 291) at Canadian Forces Station Alert, Ellesmere Island, for which he received the Canadian Forces Special Service Medal. Moses is currently a policy analyst at the Department of Canadian Heritage, and a PhD candidate in cultural mediations (critical theory) at Carleton University. He is co-author of the DND/Canadian Forces publication, A Commemorative History of Aboriginal People in the Canadian Military.
Dr. Candace S. Greene is a museum anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Her research focuses on Native North American art and material culture, especially Plains Indian drawings. In more than 20 years at the Smithsonian, she has worked on a variety of projects to promote access, preservation, and research use of the collections. She also teaches with the Anthropology Department at George Washington University.
(Moderator) Dr. Gerald McMaster is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University.