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May 09, 2011

“Geronimo” Code Name Sparks Controversy

P08410 Geronimo in Mexico

The media, politicians, tribal leaders and Indian Country were swift to react to the news of the code name “Geronimo” used in conjunction with the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden.

CBS 60 MinutesInterview with President Barak Obama. Steve Croft conducts a riveting 30-minute interview with the president as he describes the weekend that made history. PRESIDENT OBAMA: “There was a point before folks had left, before we had gotten everybody back on the helicopter and were flying back to base, where they said Geronimo has been killed. And Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden. And now obviously at that point these guys were operating in the dark with all kinds of stuff going on so everybody was cautious." The link above provides a transcrips, as well as video.

BBC—Osama bin Laden: Why Geronimo? The code name for the operation to capture Osama bin Laden was Geronimo. Why was it named after one of the best-known Native Americans, Geronimo? The Apache warrior's name conjures up an image of the American Wild West, the world over. The fact that bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces was reported to President Barack Obama on Sunday with the words "Geronimo EKIA" (Enemy Killed in Action). US officials have not commented on why the name Geronimo was chosen—and may never do so. Referring to US military possibilities in the tribal areas of Afghanistan's mountainous regions, Allan R. Millet, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Ohio State University professor, said in 2001: "It's like shooting missiles at Geronimo. . . you might get a couple of Apaches, but what difference does that make?"

Reuters—Bin Laden, Geronimo link angers Native Americans. The reported use of "Geronimo" as a codeword in the operation that led to Osama bin Laden's killing has angered some Native Americans and threatens to become an embarrassment for the Obama administration. It has been widely reported that U.S. forces said "Geronimo EKIA (Enemy Killed in Action)" to confirm bin Laden's death. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs discussed on Thursday concerns raised over "the linking of the name of Geronimo, one of the greatest Native American heroes, with the most hated enemy of the United States," said the committee's chief counsel Loretta Tuell.

P07009 Apache prisoners

Native Americans object to linking Geronimo to bin Laden. In light of reports that linked the name "Geronimo" with the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, Native Americans expressed disappointment Thursday and pointed to the sacrifices they have made in the service."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 Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. "It's critical that military leaders and operational standards honor the service of those who protect our freedom." "Whether it was intended only to name the military operation to kill or capture Osama bin Laden or to give Osama bin Laden himself the code name Geronimo, either was an outrageous insult and mistake," he said. To use the name is "such a subversion of history that it also defames a great human spirit and Native American leader," he said.

Fox News—Indian Tribe Seeks Apology for Use of Code Name Geronimo for Bin Laden. The Fort Sill Apache Tribe leader is demanding that President Obama apologize for the government's use of the code name Geronimo for terrorist Osama bin Laden. Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser asked for the apology in a letter sent Tuesday to the president. "We are grateful that the United States was successful in its mission against bin Laden, but associating Geronimo's name with an international terrorist only perpetuates old stereotypes about Apaches," Houser wrote. "In the 1800s, Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache people were portrayed as savages," he added. "This portrayal was used as justification for the forced removal from their homelands and their subsequent imprisonment. Linking Geronimo's name to an infamous terrorist only reinforces this false and defamatory stereotype." Houser says equating Geronimo or any other Native American figure with a "mass murderer and cowardly terrorist" is painful and offensive.  

Washington PostAmerican Indians object to “Geronimo” as code for bin Laden raid. “I was celebrating that we had gotten this guy and feeling so much a part of America,” Tom Holm, a former Marine, a member of the Creek/Cherokee nations and a retired professor of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, said by phone Tuesday. “And then this ‘Geronimo EKIA’ thing comes up. I just said, ‘Why pick on us?’ Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Geronimo ever did, and Hitler would seem to be evil personified, but the code name for bin Laden is Geronimo?” Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group based in Washington, has long fought against the use of Indian imagery in American life (including as the mascot of the Washington Redskins). She sighed when asked about the latest iteration of Geronimo. “It’s how deeply embedded the ‘Indian as enemy’ is in the collective mind of America,” she said. “To this day, when soldiers are going into enemy territory, it’s common for it to be called ‘Indian Country.’”

P06842 Geronimo studio portraitTime Why ‛Geronimo’? For Some, Bin Laden Code Name Holds Anti-Native American Implications. In the situation room Sunday, President Obama waited to hear if Geronimo was dead. Then word came. “We’ve IDed Geronimo,” said a voice. Updated on May 4, 2011: He was dead. He was also Osama bin Laden. So why nickname the operation to kill America's most-hated terrorist with the name of a famous Native American freedom fighter? Good question.

Yahoo—Native Americans offended by code name ‘Geronimo.’ The top staff member on the US 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. "Concerns over the linking of the name of Geronimo, one of the greatest Native American heroes, with the most hated enemies of the United States is an example of the kinds of issues we intended to address at Thursday's hearing," she said, adding that the hearing was scheduled before the raid that killed bin Laden. Since this information hit the news stands through out the nation, NAJA has received numerous call of complaints from our fellow colleagues and tribal members who were upset to find out that again, our Native People are being equated to a terrorist/murderer/enemy number one.

USA Today—Indian leaders cry foul over bin Laden Geronimo’ nickname. “This victory has otherwise united our country,” Indian Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (D–Hawai`i), said of bin Laden's killing. “It is unfortunate that this code name was chosen.” Akaka said the insult, unintended as it may have been, only demonstrated the need for greater cultural sensitivity. Indian leaders agreed, saying professional and college team nicknames, such as Braves, Chiefs, and Redskins, and their clownish mascots, continue to demean American Indian culture and leave a lasting effect that can be seen in the down-and-out reservations that dot the United States. 

KOAT-TV—NM Senator Denounces Geronimo Connection to Bin Laden. A New Mexico senator is denouncing the military's decision to use the code name "Geronimo" in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. During a hearing Thursday to address Native American stereotypes, Sen. Tom Udall (D– New Mexico) said the issue has already sparked a storm of emotion. Udall stressed that he is not critical of those who carried out the heroic mission in Pakistan, but he's concerned about the implications of using the Native American warrior in that context. Udall said he's reaching out to the White House and the Department of Defense to figure out why Geronimo's name was used.

Indian Country Today Media Network—San Carlos Apache Tribe Seeks Apology from President Obama. May 6, 2011, Dear President Obama: On behalf of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, we vehemently object and oppose the designation of the name of our Apache leader, Geronimo, as a military euphemism for an evil man, Osama bin Laden, by the United States. The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council has thoughtfully and carefully consulted on this extremely sensitive issue and respectfully request that you do the following: (1) Immediately issue a formal apology for equating the name of Geronimo with Osama bin Laden as part of the military exercise; (2) Immediately issue an Executive Order, as Commander in Chief, that the name “Geronimo” never be used disparagingly and in association with a known enemy of the United States; (3) Promote Federal Indian Policy that seeks to uplift and recognize Native American contributions to society, such as that of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and implement policies to improve the way of life for the Apache people. Respectfully, Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe.

P23236 Geronimo portraitDemocracy NowUse of "Geronimo" as Code for Osama bin Laden: "The Continuation of the Wars against Indigenous People. We get reaction from Native American activist and writer, Winona LaDuke. "The reality is that the military is full of native nomenclature,” says LaDuke. "You’ve got Black Hawk helicopters, Apache Longbow helicopters. You’ve got Tomahawk missiles. The term used when you leave a military base in a foreign country is to go 'off the reservation, into Indian Country.' So what is that messaging that is passed on? It is basically the continuation of the wars against indigenous people."

Indian Country TodayThink about Your Legacy, Mr. President. Tina Marie Osceola, historic resource officer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida wrote, “Regardless of the context in which ‘Geronimo’ was used, we were disappointed that our March message concerning the comparison of the Seminole to Al Qaeda terrorists by the Department of Defense was not taken seriously by the White House and has continued on to this day with the death of bin Laden.” Chairman Mitchell Cypress wrote, “In 2008, I listened to your promises to our people and was assured that you would be an advocate for Indian country. As leaders of our nations, you and I have the opportunity to be the faces of change that all Americans can believe in and the example of true government to government relations.”

National Museum of the American Indian—NMAI Statement on Geronimo by Associate Director Tim Johnson. “One could hardly think of a more egregious insult than to be compared or linked to Osama bin Laden. But this is what happened when the otherwise exacting military operation that brought bin Laden to justice gave him, or the operation, the code name Geronimo. Like millions of people in this country and around the world, American Indians greeted news of the successful tactical strike with a great sense of pride, satisfaction, and relief, as well as ongoing sorrow for the thousands of innocent people who died due to bin Laden's pervasive violence. So it came as a painful surprise and disappointment when, as details emerged of the chronology of the operation, the first report of bin Laden's death from the Navy SEAL Team Six was "Geronimo EKIA" (enemy killed in action).”

Native American Journalists AssociationStatement by Rhonda LeValdo, NAJA president.The information distributed to multiple-media sources across the nation, on the U.S. government’s behalf, has proved to the Native Nations across the board that the American people in addition to the U.S. government still don’t understand that we, the Native People of this land, are not here for constant public humiliation. In the New York Times article, ‘Clues Gradually Led to the Location of Osama Bin Laden,’ Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, narrated ‘We have a visual on Geronimo,’ he said. A few minutes later: ‘Geronimo EKIA.’ Enemy Killed In Action. Regardless, the U.S government has a responsibility to the people of this country, Native people are very much a part of and for that reason, utilizing the name Geronimo was an unacceptable choice of words.”

United Methodist ChurchOsama Bin Laden was no “Geronimo. The Native American Task Force of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) added its voice to the dismay expressed by Native populations at the U.S. Armed Forces use of the name “Geronimo” as its code word for Osama bin Laden. “While we decry terrorism in any form, we refute the notion that our Native leaders, past and current, be paralleled in any way with persons who unashamedly destroy life,” said the Rev. Chebon Kernell, a Seminole who co-chairs the GBCS Native American Task Force. “We are all articulating the disappointment, concern and frustration with the use of the name of this iconic Native American hero,” Kernell emphasized. He said the hope is that persons throughout the church, country and world will continue to work to erase stereotypical misunderstandings that create false images of people and communities.

Associated Press via Forbes—Indian Country Network calls for Geronimo support. A media network aimed at Native Americans is urging social network users to change their profile pictures to an image of Geronimo in honor of the legendary Apache warrior. Geronimo profile pictures started popping up at the beginning of the week, after details of the raid that killed bin Laden came to light. The code name also prompted statements of disapproval from tribes, a call for President Barack Obama to apologize and scores of angry comments on social network sites.

Images of Goyathlay (Geronimo, ca. 1825–1909, Chiricahua Apache):

Goyathlay and Naiche (Natchez, 1857–1921) on horseback; standing next to them are Geronimo's second cousins, Perico who is holding a baby, and either Fun or Tsisnah. Cañon de los Embudos, Sonora, Mexico; March 1886, during negotiations for the band's surrender to Gen. George Crook. Photo by Camillus Fly. P08410

Chiricahua Apache prisoners, including Goyathlay (front row, 3rd from right) and Naiche (first row, 4th from right), at a rest stop along the Southern Pacific Railroad, en route to Fort Marion, Florida. Nueces River, Texas; September 10, 1886. Photo by A. J. McDonald. P07009

Studio portrait, southern Arizona; ca. 1890. Photo by A. Frank Randall or G. Ben Wittick. P6842

Fort Sill, Indian Territory (present-day Comanche County, Oklahoma). Photo by Dagle's Studio, Murphysboro, Illinois; May 14, 1905. P23236



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@Brian: If you accept the "smaller" acts of racism, it makes it much easier for others to perform "larger" acts of racism. We must fight racism wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head or progress is an illusion.

I totally agree. Its part of our history, right? Glad reading your page. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can’t wait to read lots of your posts.

To Brian, If you are NDN then this issue would have hurt you dearly. This is not petty, we are tired of the government looking at us as some kind of joke. I hope in the future all NDN people will rise together and take this land back. Make the white people and everyone else survive like our ancestors did and like we still do today.

such a nice article!i do thank you for sharing this one!good job.,

thank you for posting this info.its nice & i can't wait to read lots of your post.. thank you !!!

Didnt know Gerinimo was a native name..probably the reason they are offended is because of its attachment to the killing of another person


thanks for sharing this historic post...

I am amazed by this history picture and story you wrote,thumbs up for this.

i love your blog post, it really hit the spot. do you have any particular reason for creating this or do you just want to share knowledge? Im glad you enjoy history aswell

I thought the code name fitting as both men eluded overwhelming forces for long periods. The choice was a tribute, not a link to terrorism. (Yes, I'm a gringo.)

Thank you for this article! It is very interesting! We hope to come back with other articles as interesting and exciting!


Thanks for the historical read you shared.

I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

i love your blog post, it really hit the spot
thanks for sharing this historic post...
I hope in the future all NDN people will rise together and take this land back

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