Last WWII Mohawk code talker honoured by Assembly of First Nations, House of Commons

Louis Levi Oakes, 96, is the last surviving Mohawk code talker who served during the Second World War. The Akwesasne man's contributions were recognized by the Assembly of First Nations and the House of Commons Tuesday.

96-year-old Louis Levi Oakes used Mohawk language to encode messages for Allied forces

Louis Levi Oakes, a Mohawk veteran from Akwesasne, was honoured by the Assembly of First Nations for his contributions as an Indigenous code talker during the Second World War. (CPAC)

Louis Levi Oakes is the last of his kind.

The 96-year-old veteran from Akwesasne is the last surviving Mohawk code talker, according to the U.S. Congress.

During the Second World War, Kanien'kéha (Mohawk language) was one of 33 Indigenous languages used to send encoded messages between Allied forces so that enemies could not understand.

Oakes' contributions to Allied forces efforts during the Second World War were recognized by the Assembly of First Nations and the House of Commons Tuesday.

Oakes was given a star blanket and beaded medallion by AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde at an AFN special chiefs assembly in Ottawa.

Louis Levi Oakes used Mohawk language to encode messages for Allied forces. 3:50

"When you wrap a star quilt around anyone, you're forever surrounded by your relatives, the star people in the heavens, and we've done that for Levi," said Bellegarde.

"It's a small gift to say thank you."

Oakes' response was short and sweet.

"Niawen'kó:wa ki' wáhi," he said, meaning 'Great thanks, indeed' in Kanien'kéha.

Awarded Silver Star

At 18, Oakes enlisted in the United States Army and served for six years as a technician 4th grade with Company B's 442nd Signal Battalion. He received his training as a code talker training while stationed in Louisiana along with 17 other Mohawks from Akwesasne, a reserve that straddles the Canada-U.S and Quebec-Ontario borders.

Louis Levi Oakes enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 18. He served for six years, including as a code talker in South Pacific theatres during the Second World War. (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe)

Oakes served as code talker in the South Pacific, New Guinea, and Philippines. He received an honourable discharge in 1946 and was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his service. It's the third-highest military decoration given in the U.S. for showing gallantry in action against an enemy.

After an introduction by the Speaker, MPs in the House of Commons gave Oakes a standing ovation.

"He's an example of someone who laid it all on the line and used his language to ensure that we all live in peace and ensured Allied victory," Marc Miller, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, told CBC News.

"In Canada, we've done a pretty poor job of acknowledging our Indigenous veterans," said Miller.

"If you compare to our American allies they seem to do a much better symbolic job of acknowledging them. The use of code talking during the war saved lives and a shared Allied victory. For me, that's super important."

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.