Bin Laden Code-name “Geronimo” Is a Bomb in Indian Country

Lise Balk King

The US government may have captured and killed Osama Bin Laden with a surgical strike, but it also dropped a bombshell on Native America in the process. “We’ve ID’d Geronimo,” said the voice of the Navy SEAL who reported the hunt for Osama bin Laden was over. The President, and all those gathered in the situation room, waited on edge for the voice to return with the triumphant news, that in fact, “Geronimo” was dead.

According to multiple sources, "Geronimo-E KIA" is the message that was sent to the White House by the strike team to announce that bin Laden, the “E,” or Enemy, was Killed In Action.

As 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.

Potentially the most disturbing fact is what this says to American Indian children. It equates being Native American with being hated, an enemy to the world, and someone to be hunted down and killed, and re-casts one of their heroes into a villainous role.

Time Magazine's Swampland blog first reported the details yesterday that the target, Osama bin Laden, was code-named Geronimo, in keeping with The White House’s afternoon press conference.

But the story coming from the White House evolved by evening, with what appears to be a “re-tooling” of the message, which now states that the “mission” was code-named Geronimo.

The CNN White House blog featured a historic black and white photo of Geronimo and the headline, “Osama bin Laden codename "Geronimo", for the duration of the afternoon at whitehouse.blogs.cnn.com. There is currently a post with the title "Osama bin Laden mission codename 'Geronimo" (emphasis added) with a timestamp of 4:46 PM, though some commenters express outrage over the earlier title.

Tribal members from around the country are turning to social networking sites Facebook and Twitter as an outlet to express their anger and sadness at the unwelcome association. “This sucks,” said Harold Monteau, an attorney and tribal member from Rocky Boy, Montana, “A lot of people are angry about the obvious stereotypes it implies.”

“It’s another attempt to label Native Americans as terrorists,” said Paula Antoine from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Beaver North Cloud, a JemezPueblo tribal member from Albuquerque, New Mexico expressed her frustration, saying “Damn it!!!!! Why am I not surprised, yet so disappointed beyond words.”

It is unthinkable to many tribal people that the reviled killer and enemy of all Americans, Osama bin Laden, would be code-named after perhaps the most famous American Indian. But it is especially ironic in light of the fact that Native Americans historically serve in the United States Armed Forces in higher numbers per capita than any other ethnic group, and have been doing so for over 200 years.

More than 12,000 tribal members stepped up to fight in WWI for a country that did not recognize them as citizens. In 1924, the passage of the Snyder Act finally granted them citizenship, gave them the “right” to vote, and made them eligible for the draft. In WWII, they signed up in numbers far outpacing their expected contributions. More than 44,000 tribal members enlisted for military service out of an estimated total population of just over 350,000.

This makes one wonder: How many American Indians are serving in the Navy today, and how many are members of the SEALs, the heroic soldiers who performed the daring mission that took out bin Laden Sunday night?

In any case, this incredible lapse in judgment on the part of the Department of Defense, code named “Geronimo,” presents an opportunity to finally teach the American public, and the world, another lesson in American history.

Yes, it’s true that Geronimo and his cohorts were fierce warriors and chiefs, and they fought bravely against the decimation of their homes and families. It’s also true that their descendents are on the battlefield today, in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. They help to defend us against those who would commit acts of terror on what is now our shared homeland, which was once theirs alone.

They stand shoulder to shoulder with American citizens of all races. It’s time for the rest of America to stand with them.

Lise Balk King is a Masters in Public Administration candidate at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, class of 2011. She serves as a Senior Editor, US Domestic Policy, for the Harvard Kennedy School Review. Before attending Harvard, Lise co-owned and operated The Native Voice, an independent national Native American newspaper. She can be reached at lise_balk_king@hks11.harvard.edu

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tmsyr11's picture
I like your statement "Stand up and be counted when it is important to stand up". I believe this a personal challenge to people of American Indian descent where they can make a difference in the family, community, work, church, etc. Furthermore, it should be reminded to American Indians, they are representative of their host nations. We all make mistakes, but to waste a life for the sake of immediate fixation/gratification is going the wrong path. Unfortunately for the sake of new-stories, any actions that I would take are reflections of my family, and even my host tribe.
monkette's picture
This is just sickening news, once again the United States government proves itself as the never ending enemy of the American Indian. The American Indian has been the government's enemy since they first landed here and knew they could and they would, destroy my people in any way possible. Tomorrow they will take my children from me, out here in Los Angeles children's court, claiming that my children and I are not ICWA children, although they are 45% blood quantum children. Today, i have to listen to the same government associate one of the most famous indian chiefs of this nation to a terrorist who killed over 3,000 civilian citizens and many more in the aftermath of war. They are winning the war with this victory, both wars, the one over in the middle east and the genocide they continue to commit on me and my family, one indian at a time.
sharstar's picture
First of all, thank you for this article. I for one am very disappointed they would use "Geronimo" for a codename. They had a whole decade to come up with a codename. Why they chose to use an iconic Native American name is beyond my belief. I doubt we will get an apology. Instead they will feed us some excuse and push it to the side. Yes, the world feels a lot safer but it's too bad we still have high ignorance, stereotype, and no compassion and honor for our late Indigenous leaders.
tedbike3000's picture
Love it...It is a supreme tribute that Geronimo did something so epic as to p#%@ off the U.S. gov't so much that his name would live through history enough to be a symbol of resistance. Who else has done something so awesome that he has given his name to an act? "you can kill me, but you'll not forget me"
elizabethwilson's picture
Yes that is correct. These CNN people and the CIA, Military bosses and the US Govt should be very careful how they word these missions. Maybe they meant it was Operation Geronimo to the name of the navy seals that were deployed to carry out this very dangerous mission. my son, who is actually in the US navy is a bit pissed off too. So is my other son, who works for....CNN. Lets hope the Powers that be rectify their mismanagement of words, and apologize to Geronimos family, the Apache nation, and to Americans in general.Even a lot of white and African Americans where pissed off about Geronimos name being used in vain, and also a lot of other countries too. Geronimo was one, if not the best guerilla warrior out and if he were living today, he would more then likely be one of the best soldiers on our entire planet. [He would have made a great President or head of the military]....
elizabethwilson's picture
Thank you. Peace to you too. Aho my friend.
crystaluka's picture
Oh, COME ON!!!! First of all, they didn't use Geronimo as the code word for Bin Laden, they used it as a code word for the entire operation!!! What would you have preferred they use, Operation We-found-Bin-Laden-in-a-mansion-just-outside-Abbottabad?!?!?!" Can this country ever do ANYTHING without SOMEONE getting angry about it?? The radical Muslims are angry because they gave him a burial at sea, now the Native Americans are angry because we used the wrong word. Doesn't ANYONE other than ME see the insanity here??? Honestly, they could have used the name of my beloved grandmother if they wanted to. This will go down as the operation of the decade. Why not be PROUD that they chose the name of, in your own words, a "fierce warrior." Because that's what our Navy SEALs represented here. Fierce Warriors! Why don't you try being proud Americans instead of complaining about what really amounts to NOTHING! Yes, you are NATIVE Americans... but you're certainly not acting like Americans. Your final words really sum it all up: "They stand shoulder to shoulder with American citizens of all races. It’s time for the rest of America to stand with them." I think it's time for YOU all to stand with the rest of America. Be proud of what your country accomplished instead of whining about their choice of a code name. Come on, America. Can we not stand together on ANYTHING??? Isn't it sad that the only time Americans truly come together is when we are attacked???? Enough is enough! We are ALL Americans. Native or otherwise. Stop whining!
thechief's picture
"Besides providing the newcomers with food and water, they acted as guides, soldiers, and allies to help break the threat of Apache terrorism." I pulled this from my tribes webpage. I never really paid attention to it but it's the first time I've seen the apaches mentioned as terrorists. Its funny when I hear my own younger tribal members thinking that Geronimo was cool. I guess being a nomadic warrior is much cooler than being a farmer that takes care of his family.
thisone's picture
It is my understanding that the code name for OBL was "Jackpot." "Geronimo" was code for the mission.
walker's picture
Know whats even more ironic? Apache and Navajo Scouts were used by the US Army to hunt or find "Apache Renegades" include Geronimo back in the days. Eventually after Goyatle' surrendered, the Apache scouts were shipped off to FL, then to OK. The Apache Scouts following the original scouts then moved to Ft. Huachuaca, AZ and became part of the US Army. This is the birthplace or development of the Army's First Special Forces (Google it and you'll find out). It was because of Apache's guerilla warfare tactics that the special forces started using unconventional warfare that now the green berets, delta force, and Navy Seals use. The Special Operations community should be thanking the Apaches like Geronimo & Cochise on their contributions in developing guerilla warfare tactics for their unconventional warfare. And yeah it's shows disrespects towards the Apache People.