Thursday, May 5, 2011

Native Americans Fume Over Geronimo Connection with Osama Bin Laden

They could have given it any one of a number of befitting code names. "Rattlesnake Ransome," "Jailhouse Rock," "Monster Mash," or "Montezuma's Revenge" would have perfectly described the commando mission that ended the life of the most hated man in America. Heck, they could have called it "Mission Beelzebub" and no one would have batted an eyelash.

But use code name "Geronimo to reference anything associated with Osama bin Laden and all hell breaks loose.

It wasn't immediately clear if U.S. commandos used "Geronimo" as a reference to the universally reviled bin Laden or as confirmation of the death mission that blew his brains out. Several national news organizations reported accounts from the Situation Room identifying bin Laden as Geronimo. The White House disputed the account. Either way, Native Americans are royally ticked off.

A statement issued by Jefferson Keel, president of The National Congress of American Indians skewers the Obama administration for associating the legendary Apache chief's name with a scumbag terrorist, saying in part,

"Our understanding is that bin Laden's actual code name was 'Jackpot' and the operation name was 'Geronimo,'[But] "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."

In a letter to President Obama, Fort Sill Apache Tribe Chairman Jeff Houser demanded an apology, saying "to equate Geronimo or any other Native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our Tribe and to all Native Americans."

The debate over insensitive use of Native American references reverberates throughout the halls of Washington. Congress intends to explore the matter today in an oversight hearing: "Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People" Committee member Loretta Tuell said inappropriate use of Native American references is prevalent throughout America and negatively affects children.

At least one blogger's recollection of personal discrimination illustrates the negative impact on the Native American psyche. What connection her experience has to use of Native American references, I'm not sure. Remove all such references from the picture and the discrimination could very well remain the same. On the other hand, putting the shoe on the other foot, I can see how linking bin Laden to the code name "Moshe Dyan" might raise the hackles of the ADL.

In that regard, Native American outrage over the bin Laden connection isn't hyper sensitivity run amuck. More like a cry for common decency, at least when it comes to associations with the loathesome and repugnant.

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Anonymous said...

Great post, Cheryl! From what I can gather, this really shows how the dominant culture in the US still doesn't get it, though I don't think the insult was intentional. While Geronimo may have been a villain to some, he is a hero to Native Americans. What a disconnect.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post! You brought a better understanding of   native Americans culture.