SNEAK PEAK EDUCATIONAL EVENT: Canadian Cree Code Talker in the Second World War

Image from Canadian Cree Code Talker event
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Please join us for a free screening of Cree Code Talker, an important new documentary film on Charles “Checker” Tomkins (Métis) and his contributions during the Second World War. The screening will be followed by a discussion on themes of warriorship. The director and the producer will be on hand to introduce the film, and the host for this event is OCAD University, Indigenous Visual Cultural Research Centre. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Gerald McMaster.


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. This discussion will explore some of these themes through the following questions: 

  • Why are veterans so honoured within the Indigenous community?
  • What is the nature, concept, and variety of warriorship, historically and today?
  • Why were Indigenous peoples so critical to the Second World War?
  • How were Indigenous people’s lives changed upon their return to Canada and the U.S.?
  • Why hasn’t the Canadian government formally acknowledged Canada’s Cree code talkers publicly, the way Navajo code talkers have been recognized in the U.S.?

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. 

The screening will be followed up by presentations addressing this topic, with three expert panelists and moderator Dr. Gerald McMaster, Canadian Research Chair at OCAD University.    


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.


  • 9:00 Libation (sweetgrass burning): Elder Gary Sault, Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation
  • 9:15 Welcome: Dr. Sara Diamond, President of OCAD University
  • 9:30 Introduction of film: Producer Alexandra (Alex) Lazarowich and Director Cowboy Smithx
  • 9:45 Screening of film
  • 10:00 Break
  • 10:15 Presentations with guest speakers and moderator: 

- Boye Ladd, Ho-Chunk/Zuni, Vietnam Veteran
- John Moses, Aboriginal Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage
- Dr. Candace Greene, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
- Dr. Gerald McMaster, Canada Research Chair, OCAD University

  • 12:00noon End of session
Venue & Address: 
OCAD University 122 Saint Patrick Street 5th Floor, room 1512 Toronto, ON