In Defense of Geronimo


President Barack Obama and others gathered in the situation room Sunday. “We’ve ID’d Geronimo” Navy SEALs relayed during their operation that would result in the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. “Geronimo EKIA,” came next translating that the ‘e.nemy was k.illed i.n a.ction.’ Having a fugitive terrorist branded with the name of a heroic figure in Native American history didn’t sit well with indigenous peoples. Consider the points outlined in the following press release from the Onondaga Nation:

Onondaga Nation
Press Release
May 3, 2011

“We’ve ID’d Geronimo” – 102 years after his death Geronimo is still being killed by U.S. Forces.

This is a sad commentary on the attitude of leaders of the U.S. military forces that continue to personify the original peoples of North America as enemies and savages.  The use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama Bin Laden is reprehensible.   Think of the outcry if they had used any other ethnic group’s hero.  Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity, passing away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909.  To compare him to Osama Bin Laden is illogical and insulting.  The name Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world, and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our peoples.  The U.S. military leadership should have known better.

It all brings to mind the August 13, 2010 statement by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg advising then Governor Paterson to “get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun” to deal with Indian affairs.  This kind of thinking indicates little progress in a mature social development of United States leadership.

The military record of American Indians is exemplary.  We have more men and women per capita volunteering in U.S. military services than any other ethnic group.  It was American Indian code talkers that used their native languages to carry and transmit messages that Japanese and German intelligence could not decode, saving thousands of American lives in WWII.  Ironically these brave men and women were using languages that American and Canadian boarding schools were doing their best to stamp out.  When can we expect respect for our human dignity and human rights?

–  Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, on Behalf of the Haudenosaunee

The BBC and other news outlets tried their best to explain “Why Geronimo?”  I found it more informative to turn to the voices of indigenous peoples themselves and their media outlets. One insightful article, “Bin Laden Code-name “Geronimo” Is a Bomb in Indian Country”  is very insightful in this regard. President Obama should do better by his constituents. Native Americans provided a solid block in the polls back in 2008. Obama was even adopted by the Blackfoot tribe. They deserve better than this.

About Gabriel San Roman