In a statement released May 3, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) responded to the death of Osama bin Laden and reports that the American Indian name “Geronimo” was used as the code name for the operation to kill the al-Qaeda leader.
“We join President Obama in reflecting on the sacrifices made by the members of our military to defend our great nation. When terrorists attacked on 9/11, it was an attack on our homeland that deeply affected tribal nations, along with our fellow citizens. Osama bin Laden was a shared enemy. Since 2001, 61 American Indians and Alaskan Natives have died defending our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Close to 450 have been wounded,” said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country.
“Let’s be very clear about what is important here; the successful removal of Osama bin Laden as a threat to the United States honors the sacrifice these Native warriors made for the United States and their people,” added Keel, an Army Veteran and the Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.
In November 2010, the Pentagon estimated that nearly 24,000 American Indian and Alaska Native active duty personnel serve across the Armed Forces. Hundreds of thousands of tribal members have served in the U.S. military in the last century making vital contributions, such as the American Indian code talkers.
Reports from news outlets in the days following the tactical strike in Pakistan to capture or kill bin Laden have stated that the military’s code name for him was “Geronimo,” referring to the Apache leader revered by many as a hero in the Southwestern United States.
“Our understanding is that bin Laden’s actual code name was ‘Jackpot’ and the operation name was ‘Geronimo’,” said Keel. “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.”
Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI, is a retired U.S. Army officer with more than 20 years active duty service. He served two extended tours of combat duty as an Infantryman in Vietnam, and received numerous awards and decorations for heroism, including two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with “V” for valor, and the Army Commendation Medal with valor. He is a former Airborne Ranger, infantry platoon sergeant and platoon leader, and served as an instructor in the elite U.S. Army Rangers.
To view images of Geronimo, visit our photo gallery.