Valerie Red-Horse (Cherokee and Sioux) is an award-winning filmmaker, entrepreneur and investment banker. In her new documentary film Choctaw Code Talkers, Red-Horse reveals the origins of how Choctaw Native American soldiers used their Native language to aid the Allied Forces in the transmission of secret, tactical messages during World War I. As Red-Horse explains, “It’s a film depicting a very little known event that occurred in World War I that is a truly an American story.
Choctaw Code Talkers looks at the seldom heard story of a group of Choctaw soldiers from Oklahoma drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in World War I. “While they were fighting as soldiers, the communications broke down between the Allied Forces on the French front, and we were in essence losing the war,” says Red-Horse, “and they were asked to use their Native language to try to obtain secure communications.” The German forces were unable to break the Choctaw code speak, and the Choctaw Code Talkers, as they came to be known, “successfully assisted with an Allied victory.”
Despite their great impact in the Allied victory, the work of the Choctaw Code Talkers was largely kept under wraps following the completion of the War. As Red-Horse explains it, “the army had a feeling based on its success that there would be a need for this in the future, and that’s what happened with the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II.” Aside from that, the Choctaw, like all other Native Americans at the time of World War I, were not considered U.S. citizens. Red-Horse interprets this as a contributing factor in limiting the Choctaw recognition following their service. Choctaw Code Talkers looks at “who the Choctaw people are, having come out of their own Trail of Tears, and their strained relationship with the government.”
Red-Horse first became fascinated by the art of filmmaking in middle school, when her class was presented with a graphically intense anti-drug film that “scared us straight,” she says, “I felt so drawn to the genre in terms of the ability to convey emotions and messages through film.” She earned her Bachelor of Arts with Cum Laude honors from UCLA, where she majored in film and television acting.
While in college, Red-Horse found a job working for a major investment banking firm, where she rose through the ranks beginning as an office assistant. “Even though I was an assistant, I learned what the market was about and how you could get things done that hadn’t been done before,” explains Red-Horse. Based on her experience, she later founded Wall Street’s only Native American owned investment bank, Red-Horse Securities LLC. “I was already on the path of being a filmmaker when I then became experienced in investment banking, and I didn’t want to give up one to do the other,” says Red-Horse. “That’s the beauty of everything I do, it’s all people oriented and the relationships are key.”
Interview conducted and edited by Ben Kreimer