The top staffer for the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee is objecting to the US military’s use of the code name “Geronimo” for Osama bin Laden during the raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader.
Geronimo was an Apache leader in the 19th century, who spent many years fighting the Mexican and US armies until his surrender in 1886.
Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday it was inappropriate to link Geronimo, whom she called “one of the greatest Native American heroes,” with one of the most hated enemies of the US.
“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,” Tuell said.
Tuell is a member of the Nez Perce tribe and grew up on the tribe’s reservation in Idaho. The Senate Indian Affairs panel had previously scheduled a hearing for today on racial stereotypes of native people. Tuell said the use of Geronimo in the bin Laden raid will be discussed.
Steven Newcomb, a columnist for the weekly newspaper Indian Country Today, criticized what he called a disrespectful use of a name revered by many Native Americans.
“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,” Newcomb wrote.
After bin Laden was killed, the military sent a message back to the White House: “Geronimo EKIA” — enemy killed in action.
“It’s another attempt to label Native Americans as terrorists,” said Paula Antoine of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.
A White House spokesman referred questions about the code name to the Pentagon. A US Department of Defense spokeswoman declined to comment.