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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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's picture
lighten up indeed!
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'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.
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.
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.
crystaluka's picture
fastly former adverbial form of fast (adj.), from O.E. fæstlic , obsolete in 19c., simple fast taking its place. How OLD are you? LOL ANYWAY... Everybody SHOULD speak English. If you choose to live in America - learn the language!!! I wouldn't go live in France if I didn't speak French. And when I am the minority and the major language of America becomes Spanish or Farsi or Swahili, I will attempt to learn the language. Look, I'm sorry about what happened to your ancestors, and I agree, the "whites" were terrible to them. They came here thinking they "discovered" this land and then proceeded to just TAKE what they wanted. I get it... But you also have to move into the 21st Century. You're pissed that the "whites" just stuck you all on a reservation and forgot about you. But they didn't tell you that you had to stay there. Nobody said that you couldn't go out and live in society with EVERYONE else. And a lot of you did... but some decided to stay there and whine about it... for hundreds of years. GET OVER IT! It was a terrible time in your history, but it's HISTORY. It's just like the blacks. Yes, bringing black people over here and making them slaves was a TERRIBLE thing. But it was hundreds of years ago. This generation are not slaves and I don't feel as though they have the right to play the "slave card" for forever. Native Americans are AMERICANS. Just go out and live your life.... like EVERYBODY else. Sheesh..... every ethnic group was persecuted at some point in history. But they don't harp on it forever..... Someone mentioned the Jews during the holocaust.... same thing. And THOSE people ARE still alive. They have a remembrance day to reflect on the atrocities that occurred to THEM (not their great-great grandparents) - But mostly they just live their lives. They don't whine every time someone even mentions Hitler. They don't even whine when brainless ninnies go on rants stating that the Holocaust never happened. It just seems to me that it's easier to hate whites for forever, teach your children to hate whites and never move out of the vicious cycle of hatred. I know that you think that I'm heartless, brainless, uneducated, misinformed.... whatever. It doesn't really matter to me. I'm just telling you what I see when I read things like this. I see a bunch of people who can't move forward. If you want things to change then you have to change them. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He didn't write a blog and whine about the way things were, he went out and did something about it. He also said, “Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.” Hatred gets us nowhere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words "I will forgive you, but I'll never forget what you've done" never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, "I will forgive you, but I won't have anything further to do with you." Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again." I am not saying to forget your past, but you have to let go of the hatred. Instead of teaching the next generation to hate the "whites" why not teach them that we are all equal and that they, too, can be President. You've got to let go of the hate. Rodgers and Hammerstein, South Pacific: You've got to be taught to hate and fear You've got to be taught from year to year It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught You've got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a different shade You've got to be carefully taught You've got to be taught before it's too late Before you are six or seven or eight To hate all the people your relatives hate You've got to be carefully taught Haunting words..... When I am the minority in America, I will not teach my children that they can no longer do the things that our ancestors did, I will teach them to speak the language, get the best education that I can afford and that they can be anything they want to be if they work hard and believe in themselves. Oh, wait... that's exactly what I'm doing NOW!
crystaluka's picture
So EDUCATE us instead of HATING us!
okiokwinonfrancis's picture
@ Crystal Uka Theres a point in this. IF they didn't think about the name they were using, then THAT is the PROBLEM. The fact that it didn't even cross their mind that the use of a historical figure and leader of Native American people was used as a "code-name" for a terrorist and enemy of the state is a problem, then there is an issue with Native American feelings being disregaurded. Its the fact that you stated yourself, ZERO thought went into it. We have a history that is pushed under the table and we are constantly dealing with issues like stereotypes and names that were given to us by ignorant people such as yourself. I will call you ignorant, because you lack an understanding. Just because our suffering started hundreds of years ago does not mean its ended, it STARTED that long ago. And since you are igorant, you would not see it as an issue of heritage because you're looking at it from your point of view only. PS the over excessive responses only show that your ill confidence in your own argument lacks the information you actually carry in your mind and heart. How much time did it take you to write that last response? Did you spell check and research too? Maybe you should include your sources. Here are mine: 1. Oral Tradition 2. Elders 3. Historical articles and journals 4. My own experience growing up on a reservation.
maryleejohns's picture
Lise happens to be a very dear friend of mine and I don't normally disagree with anything she says or writes. In fact I'm not necessarily disagreeing with her now. However, I do want to say something about this furor over the military using an important Indian as a code name. Yes this was not a wise choice and because of this it has Indian Country all up in arms. This is a safe subject to be up in arms about. My issue with this debate or discussion is why do most people jump in when the debate or subject is safe and not when the subject is controversial. We don't take the road or the stand that Geronimo would have taken when the subject is, for example, the Cobell Agreement or the hiring of Indian people within our own economic activities. No you will find everyone hiding behind others whispering their support or only shaking or nodding their heads. I want to challenge all of those who have stepped into this discussion and let me hear or read what you have to say when it's a real tough issue that only a few of us dare to wade in... I for one don't think using or not using a name will save my land or keep the states from proposing high taxes on the development of our resources. It’s easy to weigh in on this subject because it’s not going to make you any enemies that you have to face walking down some aisle at a meeting. Stand up and be counted when it’s important to stand up. I do however support everyone’s right to be upset by anything that makes them want to stand up and voice their oppionion.