Published On: Thu, May 12th, 2011

“Geronimo” Code Name for Bin Laden Operation angers some

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

                Many in the nation cheered earlier in the month at the news that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was killed by a U.S. military operation. 

                According to reports, Navy SEALS reported to President Obama of bin Laden’s killing, “Geronimo EKIA” meaning Geronimo – Enemy Killed in Action.  The use of the name Geronimo for the operation angered many throughout Indian Country. 

                “Our understanding is that bin Laden’s actual code name was ‘Jackpot’ and the operation name was ‘Geronimo’,” Jefferson Keel, NCAI president, said in a statement on the issue.  “To associate a Native warrior with bin Laden is not an accurate reflection of history and it undermines the military service of Native people.  It’s critical that military leaders and operational standards honor the service of those who protect our freedom.” 

                Jeff Houser, chairman of the Fort Sill Chiricahua Warm Springs Apache Tribe, wrote in a letter to President Obama that  “to equate Geronimo or any other Native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our Tribe and to all Native Americans.” 

                “Geronimo was a renowned Chiricahua Apache leader who personally fought to defend his people, territory and way of life.  Unlike the coward Osama bin Laden, Geronimo faced his enemy in numerous battles and engagements.  He is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of Native American resistance in the history of the United States.”   

                The Senate Committee of Indian Affairs held a hearing, scheduled prior to the news of bin Laden’s death, last week entitled “Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People.” 

                Loretta Tuell, Democratic Staff Director/Chief Counsel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is a member of the Nez Perce tribe.  She said, “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.  We intend to open the forum to talk about them.” 

                The Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, representing the Haudenosaunee people, agreed.  In a statement they said, “The use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama bin Laden is reprehensible.  Think of the outcry if they had used any other ethnic group’s hero.” 

                “Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity, passing away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909.  To compare him to Osama bin Laden is illogical and insulting.” 

                Geronimo is buried at the Fort Sill Apache Prisoner of War Cemetery on the Fort Sill Army Base in Lawton, Okla. 

                The Native American Journalists Association released a statement that said in part, “We ask the Federal Government: could there not have been another name used in reference to this attack? Could we not have used another infamous enemy in reference to Bin Laden? Say, perhaps, Custer or Columbus? Throughout American history, our Native people have served in this country’s military in the highest numbers per capita of any racial group and yet sadly this is the way they are repaid for their service given to the United States.”

                According to information from the Department of Defense, 42 American Indian/Alaska Natives died in military service in Iraq from March 2003 – May 2, 2011 and a total of 336 have been wounded.  In Afghanistan, a total of 19 American Indian/Alaska Native soldiers have died between October 2001 – May 2, 2011 and a total of 109 have been wounded.

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