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American Indian Members of Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division, photograph, n.d.

During World War I, members of the 142nd Infantry, 36th Division were the nation’s first American Indian “Code Talkers.” Code Talkers sent messages encrypted in their native languages over radio, telephone, and telegraph lines. The Germans broke every American code except for the Code Talkers’ communications.

The National WWI Museum and Memorial

American Indian Members of Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division

Granting Citizenship to American Indians

On June 2, 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which was also known as the Snyder Act. It was named after the bill’s sponsor, Representative Homer P. Snyder of New York. The act granted citizenship to all American Indians born in the United States. American Indians had volunteered and served in World War I in large numbers, and citizenship was seen in part as a reward for their military service. At the time, 125,000 out of an estimated population of 300,000 American Indians were not U.S. citizens.

I am an Indian and never had any Experience in a war before, but I realize that I was doing my duty as a patriot and was fighting to save Democracy and do hope that in the future we Indian’s may Enjoy freedom which we Indian’s are always denied.

Joe High Elk, Cheyenne River Sioux, List of Indians in the World War Questionnaire, ca. 1919–1920