Native Americans offended by code name 'Geronimo'
WASHINGTON – Agence France-Presse | 5/5/2011 12:00:00 AM |
Native American leaders in the United States expressed outrage that the name of legendary Apache warrior Geronimo was used as a military code name during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Native American leaders in the United States expressed outrage Wednesday that the name of legendary Apache warrior Geronimo was used as a military code name during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
"To associate a native warrior with bin Laden is not an accurate reflection of history, and it undermines the military service of native people," said a statement by Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, or NCAI.
Geronimo, an Apache chief who lived from 1829 to 1909, was a famed warrior who fought in what is now the U.S. state of New Mexico, battling U.S. and Mexican authorities as the American West was being settled.
Keel said using the name of Geronimo during the U.S. Special Forces operation against bin Laden in Pakistan was an affront to Native Americans because it linked them to one of the most reviled enemies of the United States. He noted that 77 U.S. troops of Native American origin have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and another 400 have been wounded.
Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, sent a scathing letter this week to President Barack Obama, demanding an apology for what Houser described as the misappropriation of their hero's name.
"We are quite certain that the use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama bin Laden was based on misunderstood and misconceived historical perspectives of Geronimo and his armed struggle against the United States and Mexican government," he wrote from Apache, Oklahoma, near the burial place of the legendary warrior.
He called the link to bin Laden "painful and offensive to our tribe," especially after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Geronimo for his bravery and defense of his homeland. "Now a little over two years later your administration has further immortalized his existence by linking him to the most hated person in recent American history."
The elite U.S. Navy SEAL team that stormed bin Laden's compound uttered the words "Geronimo-E KIA" - enemy killed in action - after the al-Qaeda leader was confirmed dead.
U.S. officials have stressed the mission itself was called "Jackpot" and that the name Geronimo was not equated with the al-Qaeda leader, but was the verbal signal that the mission had succeeded.
The New York Times, in its account of Obama and top officials following the progress of the raid from the White House Situation Room, described "Geronimo" as the code name for bin Laden, and quoted CIA chief Leon Panetta as saying "We have a visual on Geronimo." Time magazine, in its account, said a source in the Situation Room later issued a clarification to say the exact words were "Visual on Geronimo."
The Onondaga Council of Chiefs said there would have been an "outcry if they had used any other ethnic group's hero" as a code name. "Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity," the group said in a statement quoted by the Syracuse Post-Standard. As Geronimo is "arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world," the link "only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our people."
The top staff member on the U.S. Senate's Indian Affairs Committee also criticized the code name, adding that insensitive use of Native American names and symbols would be the subject of an upcoming congressional hearing. "These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to native and non-native children are devastating," Loretta Tuell, the committee's chief counsel, said in a statement Tuesday.
She said it was the latest egregious example of a wider problem faced by Native Americans, whose names and images are used in commerce for everything from marketing professional sports teams to selling tobacco products.