May 03, 2011

Critics slam "Geronimo" codename

Natives and non-Natives alike were quick to slam the US designation of Osama bin Laden as "Geronimo." Here are some of the many reactions from Natives:

Ben Carnes:

Osama bin Laden:  code-named GeronimoAs a Native man, I was genuinely stunned to learn the US had selected the name of a hero who fought to defend his people and way of life. We've been reduced to caricatures as mascots and entertainment in sports and media. Our Identity as Native people have been confiscated and labeled as "Native Americans" or "American Indians." Then to associate one of our icons of resistance is an insult. I can't even begin to imagine the horror felt by Geronimo's descendants or his people, the Chiricahua Apache. They were branded as Americans in 1924 before they were pardoned as prisoners of war, ironically.

I felt a more appropriate name would have been "Custer" or "Columbus", both murderers, but this doesn't fit with their version of history. And you would think Obama, the president who campaigned for Native votes would have been more sensitive to this point when he said, "I'm on your side. I understand what it means to be an outsider. I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House...."
Steve Newcomb:

Geronimo Again?  The Indian Wars Continue Ad NauseamWhat the hell were they thinking? Why would the first African American President of the United States, as U.S. Commander in Chief, think nothing of U.S. military forces applying the code name “Geronimo” to Osama bin Laden during the reported assault against that long-sought enemy of the United States? Apparently, having an African American President in the White House is not enough to overturn the more than 200-year American tradition of treating and thinking of Indians as enemies of the United States.

Question: Did President Barack Obama point out to his military brass that such a disrespectful use of Geronimo’s name was inappropriate? Probably not.
Tom Holm and Suzan Shown Harjo:

American 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.’”
The Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs:

New York:  "We've ID'd Geronimo"--102 Years After His Death Geronimo Is Still Being Killed By U.S. ForcesThis is a sad commentary on the attitude of leaders of the U.S. military forces that continue to personify the original peoples of North America as enemies and savages. 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. The name Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world, and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our peoples. The U.S. military leadership should have known better.Loretta Tuell:

Senate official:  Wrong to link bin Laden, GeronimoThe staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Loretta Tuell, says it is inappropriate to link whom she calls "one of the greatest Native American heroes" with one of the most hated enemies of the United States.The NCAI:

NCAI Releases Statement on Use of “Geronimo” as Name for Osama bin Laden Operation“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.”Non-Natives agree

CBS News:

Osama bin Laden is no GeronimoGeronimo was fighting for his land, and committed what U.S officials at the time might have called acts of terrorism, conducting raids on white settlers in Apache territory. U.S. officials said they could convict Geronimo and his fighters of murder, and exiled the outlaw Apache to Florida as a prisoner of war, never to return to his homeland.

But bin Laden was in a completely different league. The al Qaeda leader was a mass murderer, out to destroy Western civilization, not primarily to protect his lands.
Lise Balk King:

Bin Laden Code-name “Geronimo” Is a Bomb in Indian CountryAs news of bin Laden’s death spread relief across America and the world, revelations that the assigned code name of Enemy Number One was “Geronimo,” a legendary Apache leader, caused shock waves in Indian communities across the country. It is being interpreted as a slap in the face of Native people, a disturbing message that equates an iconic symbol of Native American pride with the most hated evildoer since Adolf Hitler.

The death of bin Laden is arguably the most important news story of the year, and embedded within it is a message that an Indian warrior, a symbol of Native American survival in the face of racial annihilation, is associated with modern terrorism and the attacks on 9/11.

The “bin Laden is dead” news story will make thousands of impressions on the minds of people around the globe, and the name Geronimo will now be irrevocably linked with the world’s most reviled terrorist.
Susan Hogan:

Geronimo nothing like Osama bin LadenEarth to President Obama: The Apache Nation thinks you and the U.S. military are sorely in need of diversity training--and that’s putting it mildly.

Tribal members are offended that the U.S. code name for the mission to capture Osama bin Laden was "Geronimo," an Apache hero whom they insist was never a terrorist.

"It’s insulting and hurtful," said Vernon Petago, a member of the Jicarillia Apache Tribe at the northern tip of New Mexico. "What were they thinking? They applied a respected Apache leader’s name to the most despicable terrorist in the world."
Comment:  These are only a day's worth of responses in the mainstream media. If you hung out on Facebook or Twitter, you probably could see a hundred times as many complaints.

For more on the subject, see Why US Chose "Geronimo" Codename and Bin Laden Codenamed "Geronimo."


Rob said...

Anonymous said...

Why not just call Osama Hitler? It would work a lot better, and I don't even think Godwin would object.

dmarks said...

The hourly ABC news carried on many AM radio stations, which only runs a few minutes and covers very few topics, actually covered this issue today.

Ben Carnes said...

Great collection of posts Rob. I've been trying to find the time to do this, so I'll have to figure how to do this on my blog. Thanks for including me!

Jaine said...

I do hang out on Facebook and I went to share a posting from A Good Day to Die page (about the investigations into using Geronimo) and Facebook blocked it as it had been reported as containing offensive material. I have complained to FB about the blocking - I can only image it was considered offensive by those think calling the mission Geronimo was 'honouring' American Indians.

Rob said...

I think you wrote the first response to the issue, Ben, so I put your posting at the top.

For more Native voices speaking out against the codename, see:

Indian Country Responds to Geronimo, bin Laden Connection