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

Lise Balk King
5/3/11

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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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.
walker
okiokwinonfrancis's picture
Take a breath and understand that hundreds of years of repurcussions suffered from the GENOCIDE of our people is still being felt by us. If you can tell us to stop whining, tell those JEWISH SURVIVORS to stop whining as well. I mean, they were just burned and starved to death until almost all of them were gone, right? And we were only slaughtered on our own land and hunted like rabbits, oh yeah, and given diseases that we had zero chances of survival. We are proud that this terrible person is gone, but you have to understand that there are MILLIONS of other names that they could have used, and to connect a Native American hero to that of a terrorist is not only disrespectful, but it is also degrading to who our true warriors are. If you had any education in Native American issues you would understand this, so maybe you can pick up a History 101 book and educate yourself. Until then, I will respect your comment as an ignorant discussion with zero weight in it. PS The American identity would be nothing without us, and if you wanna talk about being true Americans, I think you should definitely read a book called "Playing Indian" by Philip J. Deloria. Learn something.
okiokwinonfrancis
novitas's picture
I believe this is a tempest in a teapot at best and choosing the wrong battle at worst. "Geronimo" was the code name of the operation, more specifically of it's successful completion. Bin Laden's code name was "Jackpot". As the article notes: "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." Had Geronimo been the code name for Bin Laden, the "E" would not have been necessary. As for the other purported quote "We’ve ID’d Geronimo", I haven't been able to locate a primary source. This either means its a mis-attribution that's gone viral or an excited Seal team member using the code name incorrectly... Just like reporters all night and the next day kept crossing up the names "Obama" and "Osama". I don't think anyone wanted Obama dead or Osama to be President. By the way I hope nobody is considering "Jackpot" to be an oblique reference to Indian casinos. It's time to lighten up a bit. Geronimo was a great warrior and a this mission was a superior exercise of warcraft befitting the great warrior's moniker.
novitas
ottawaman001's picture
His leadership abilities were true and from the Heart. He did what he did for his people not his ego.
ottawaman001
crystaluka's picture
I don't discount your history. And I honestly am very respectful of other peoples heritage, even if I DON'T know much about it. But I don't think that this is an issue of your heritage. The point I was TRYING to make was that you make it seem as though a lot of thought went into choosing a name just to be disrespectful to the Native American's because we really don't care about them ANYWAY.... And I think nothing could be further from the truth. I honestly believe that ZERO thought went into it. They picked a word that sounded "cool." I guarantee it!!! End of story. But there are SO many things wrong with this country and SO many around the world who hate Americans that when I see it coming from our own people.... it just makes me crazy. Or do you not consider yourselves "our own people?" Maybe that's it. How long do we have to remain divided? How long will you consider yourselves "victims?" As you've stated, it's been HUNDREDS of years. We don't still hate Japan because they attacked Pearl Harbor. I mean, at some point you have to let it go and move on. I don't know how you can go through your life every day with all this hatred in your heart. Call me ignorant if you want.... but my great-grandchildren will not hate your great-grandchildren because of it.
crystaluka
crystaluka's picture
lighten up indeed!
crystaluka
eagle's picture
We'll lighten up when you lighten up. Inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native children are devastating. In America it's ok to slander our tribes, because it is rare we complain about it. It's been going on for years. Time to change.
eagle
eagle's picture
Whites should be the most worried about racial and ethnic fairness. You are fastly becoming the minority. Already happening in a few states. I will, in my lifetime, see the whites being a minority in the u.s. you are already ‘whining’ about everybody needs to speak your language. Karma.
eagle
kwamim's picture
Speaking of bombs in the other “Indian Country” did you know that India code named its first nuclear test explosion Smiling Buddah? Go figure.
kwamim
hjwjc's picture
If you read Apache history and why Goyakla, so called "surrendered" it was for the family's of his fellow warriors. There are stories by the Scouts themselves who tell how they led the cavalry away from the Apache people who were hiding in designated areas. People can pick their battles, and I think some people do so over silly reasons.
hjwjc

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