Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Racism Chasing? Native American Group Wants Apology for U.S. Military's Use of "Geronimo" as a Code Name for Bin Laden

Stealthy helicopters. Stealth UAV's. The Fog of War. Urban legends are born in which Navy Seals bring folded flags to the families of their brothers who participate in "great missions for the country." Heroic dogs strapped to commandos as they rappel out of helicopters and breach Osama's compound. The existence of DEVGRU aka Seal Team Six sort of confirmed by Joe Biden. A soon to be iconic photo of the President and his circle of advisers watching a live feed of the UBL kill mission. And of course, now some old fashioned racism chasing.

When there is a presidency defining event that speaks to the zeitgeist of a people in need of closure after the national trauma that was 9/11, it would seem that all folks gather to suckle at the teats of the metaphorical cow.

I took my racism racism shoes off on Sunday night and can't find them. Apparently, some of our Native American brothers and sisters are crying foul because the codename for Bin Laden was "Geronimo." Thus, an act of disrespect was apparently committed by linking one of the greatest warriors and freedom fighters of the First Peoples to a thug who died hiding out in a mansion while his hard-body Al-Qaeda soldiers are roughing it out in the field.

I will leave this one up to you all to arbitrate:

Tribe Seeks Apology For Code Name

The leader of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe is asking President Barack Obama for a formal apology for the government's use of the code name "Geronimo" for Osama bin Laden.

Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser sent a letter to the president Tuesday, saying equating the legendary Apache warrior to a "mass murderer and cowardly terrorist" was painful and offensive to all Native Americans.

The letter was posted Wednesday morning on the Oklahoma tribe's website.

"Right now Native American children all over this country are facing the reality of having one of their most revered figures being connected to a terrorist and murderer of thousands of innocent Americans," Houser wrote. "Think about how they feel at this point."

Houser noted Obama was elected on a message of compassion and change. Forever linking the memory of Geronimo to "one of the most despicable enemies this country has ever had" shows neither compassion to Native Americans nor change in perception of Indians or their struggle, he said.

The White House referred questions on the matter to the U.S. Defense Department, which said no disrespect was meant to Native Americans.

The department wouldn't elaborate but said code names typically are chosen randomly so those working on a mission can communicate without divulging any information to adversaries

Meanwhile, news about the code name spread quickly across Indian Country and on social network sites, resulting in a groundswell of criticism against the U.S. government. Other tribes and tribal leaders issued statements of disapproval, while countless Facebook and Twitter users chimed in, some using historical photos of the Apache leader for their profile pictures.

Geronimo is a legend among Apaches and other Indian tribes for the fierce fighting he brought on during the 19th century as he tried to protect his land, his people and their way of life from encroachment by U.S. and Mexican armies.

Stories have been passed down about the Chiricahua Apache leader being able to walk without leaving footprints, helping him evade the thousands of soldiers and scouts who spent years looking for him throughout the Southwest.

In his letter, Houser told Obama that his tribe — like the rest of the nation — was ecstatic about learning of bin Laden's death during a raid in Pakistan. But those feelings were tempered as details about the code name emerged.

"Unlike the coward Osama bin Laden, Geronimo faced his enemy in numerous battles and engagements," Houser wrote. "He is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of Native American resistance in the history of the United States."

Geronimo was born in 1829 in what would later become the state of New Mexico. Aside from leading resistance efforts for his people, he was also known as a spiritual leader.

After the families of Geronimo and other Apache warriors were captured and sent to Florida, he and 35 warriors surrendered to Gen. Nelson A. Miles near the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1886.

Geronimo eventually was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where he died of pneumonia in 1909 after nearly 23 years of captivity. He was buried in the Fort Sill Apache prisoner of war cemetery.


Plane Ideas said...

I affirm and support Native Americans in this protest and any other activities they seek to purse regarding thier heritage and cultural dna..

There is nothing trival about a people seeking to thier humanity especially here in America given they suffered one of the two domestic holocausts on thier soil we now know as America..

Of course they don't need my permission nor consent for anything ..As a Black man in America I would never get in their way as they pursue whatever/whenever/however/wherever

olderwoman said...

I vote with the Apaches. This bothered me when I heard it the first time. There are three possibilities, all bad. The least bad is sheer ignorance: the use of Geronimo as a rallying cry in an attack is so common that people don't even know where it comes from. This seems to be what people are implying with the "random" argument. But that just begs the question of why Geronimo's name was even in a pool of "random" names?
Another possibility is that you know Geronimo was the last Native American to hold out in violent resistance to the invading Euro-Americans who forcibly conquered and subjected them, and you mean to equate Bin Laden with him and the US with the conquerors -- not exactly what the US is trying to convey in this action, I don't think.
The third possibility is such extreme Euro-American-centrism that the only view you have of Geronimo is from the point of view of the invaders, for whom he was a frightening symbol of Native resistance.

Henri B. said...

I don't like when a nonblack person tells me what I should and should not be offended by. I think it is up to that group to decide what's offensive to them. America has a history of treating their leaders like mascots.

Vesuvian Woman said...

Aside from everyone in America feeling entitled to a personal soapbox, perhaps they will reclaim the use of Geronimo. I am part Native American (like all Hot Chocolate from the Midewest ; ) and find it charming. Geronimo was a great leader and well-respected by his people. Naming the mission Geronimo means that someone felt a very specific focus and strong warrior spirit was needed. To me, it looks as an honor, but I'm strangely healthy and well-adjusted.

olderwoman said...

I was actually trying to figure out whether "Geronimo" was used for "mission accomplished" or as a code name for Bin Laden. From some angles, it doesn't matter, but if it was referring to the commandos rather than the target, it does have a different feel.

But I still don't think Geronimo should be thrown around. When I was a child (in the 1950s and 1960s) we would yell "Geronimo" when jumping in the pool. It meant sort of "here I go." I consider that use to have been ignorant -- we literally did not understand what we were saying, although I'm sure I knew that it was the name of an "Indian." Ignorance excuses children and even possibly ignorant adults, but not a society which fosters the ignorance.

Anonymous said...

I do some work on Native American health inequities, so you can probably guess where I am going to come down on this. Of course it is insulting and derogatory, but really, one has to recall that Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill. Sometimes when I teach on this subject, we talk about Jackson's history with First Peoples in the U.S.

Though he's a complex figure, and it's not a good idea to paint him merely as a black villain, we work on understanding how, given this history, Native Americans are likely to perceive him. And then I quietly ask them to consider what it might feel like to exchange currency every single day that honors the man with a portrait.

The point is there is really nothing surprising about the insult here. Every time I engage in some kind of public policy endeavor with NA/AI communities, I walk out in tears, just because of the enormity of what we, of what White America, not just HAS done, but is still doing.

We could of course start by trying to tone down the insults and structural stigma, but given that the latter flows from deeply rooted histories of oppression and prejudice, it's not surprising that we often fail even that.

Plane Ideas said...


Good Insight

Anonymous said...

Forgive my stupidity of referring to someone as a"black villain" on this blog of all places.

chaunceydevega said...

Just a phrase brother. We don't play the p.c. silliness game here as the diminishes us all for when real talk is necessary we can't engage in it, moreover, racism chasing over silliness is a chicken little game--and there are real wolves out there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Thrasher.

And agreed, CDV. But as you obviously document on this blog, terminology matters. Naming is powerful, so I always try to be extra conscious/careful, perhaps too much so.

Oh Crap said...

I have to weigh in with Daniel here. As someone with that legendary 1/5+ "Native American" DNA, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, I certainly see where people are offended by the use of Geronimo the historical figure and pop culture/celebrity figure, by the Obama administration.

Now, with MY luck, that 1/5+ is probably 7/8 Klamath and 1/8 Menominee, both terminated tribes. Or, it's all Cherokee Nation, one of the most reactionary tribes, politically, in the country.

Indians do not always see us Blacks as automatic allies in struggle, as we often view them. Anyone with Cherokee Nation, Creek or Black Seminole heritage and dealing with those tribe's current policies of kicking out the Blacks and everyone else without a certain real or perceived blood quantum, can attest to this. And hey, the hardliners are right; as far as some are concerned, we're part of the oppresor's scheme, and some people will drop the words "Buffalo soldiers" just as quick as some of us will cry "Cherokee slaveholders".

One would think with similar issues as us re: education, health/access to healthcare, jobs, and conditions on the rez, ndens have a lot more to worry about than code words used by the admin to mark their targets. But who among us is anyone to tell them what they should and should not be the most concerned about.