The demise of Osama bin Laden is being hailed as a triumphant moment for the Obama administration, but one group isn't quite feeling the glory.
Navy SEALs confirmed the death of bin Laden in Pakistan with the now-iconic transmission: "Geronimo EKIA," or "Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action." But as the Washington Post is reporting, the use of "Geronimo" -- also the name of a legendary 19th century Apache chief -- in connection with the Al Qaeda leader's death has offended Native Americans, who call the decision both painful and insulting.
“I was celebrating that we had gotten this guy and feeling so much a part of America,” Tom Holm, a former Marine, a member of the Creek/Cherokee Nations and a retired professor of American Indian studies at the University of Arizona, said. “And then this ‘Geronimo EKIA’ thing comes up. I just said, ‘Why pick on us?’ Robert E. Lee killed more Americans than Geronimo ever did, and Hitler would seem to be evil personified, but the code name for bin Laden is Geronimo?”
As NPR is reporting, some uncertainty about whether Geronimo was being used as a code name for the mission or for bin Laden himself remains. But many say they are offended by the overall context. "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," writes Lise Balk King at Indian Country Today. "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."
Adds Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, in a statement: "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.” Meanwhile, the leader of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe has gone an additional step by asking for a formal apology from President Barack Obama, according to the Associated Press.
Though the U.S. military has strict formats for official code names and nicknames for designated targets, the results are sometimes more goofy than intimidating, the Washington Post reports. Whether or not officials considered Geronimo's history -- the chief eluded capture for more than a decade after being hunted by some 5,000 troops following his raids on U.S. settlers -- remains uncertain.