Let’s make no mistake about it. May 1, 2011 was a proud day for America. It was a proud day for our Navy Seals, the men and women of our armed forces, and for the President of the United States and his cabinet. The primary focus of that operation and the death of Bin Laden should remain on the families who lost their loved ones and the journey of healing they can now begin. The controversies that have bled out of that day have called into question the tactics of our nation’s military; the same men and women who were charged with the mission of capturing America’s number one enemy, dead or alive.
Our decision to call into question the use of “Geronimo” on May 3rd was an effort to further our request for a public apology from the President of the United States to the native nations. Regardless of the context in which “Geronimo” was used, we were disappointed that our March message concerning the comparison of the Seminole to Al Qaeda terrorists by the Department of Defense was not taken seriously by the White House and has continued on to this day with the death of Bin Laden. Chairman Mitchell Cypress wrote, “In 2008, I listened to your promises to our people and was assured that you would be an advocate for Indian country. As leaders of our nations, you and I have the opportunity to be the faces of change that all Americans can believe in and the example of true government to government relations. You and I are the hope for a better tomorrow.”
Although our efforts to bring this issue forward and to be heard on Capitol Hill have been thwarted, we remain confident that the dialogue begun with the White House in March will remain open and our request to coordinate a public proclamation, as a follow up to the Native American Apology Resolution, signed into law in December 2009, will be accepted. The apology resolution as written can be amended upon public proclamation by the President to include an apology for the continued dive into revisionist history and the careless use of stereotypes such as the use of codename “Geronimo” for Bin Laden and the comparison of Al Qaeda to the Seminoles.
We are also reminded that the Tribes of New York State were assaulted by the violent and racist remarks of Mayor Bloomberg, when he called for state leaders to take up arms when dealing with Indian leaders over tax issues. We implore the President to stand up and fulfill his commitment to change and to be the advocate for our nation’s native leaders. As it stands now, our nation’s native people have been categorized as enemies of the state. Nothing has changed and nothing will.
It is time for native people to begin our journey of healing. The nation to nation relationship we have with this President will be diminished if we are not relevant. The future health of our people, the education of our children, the protection of our cultural resources, the health of our tribal economies rests in the hands of our nation’s tribal leaders. We have real work to do and critical issues to resolve such as the recognition of Native Hawaiians, an Energy Bill that levels the playing field for Tribal nations, and a clean Carcieri fix… just to mention a few.
We call for the convening of all tribal nations to the White House for a public proclamation so that we can begin the realization of change. So that we can tell our people that there is hope. That the ill-conceived policies of the United States of America are being thrown away and being replaced with policies written by native people because of productive consultation practices. The President needs to show America that we are not terrorists and that we are not a threat to national security, an image that is being continuously perpetuated by the Department of Defense under President Obama’s watch. Although the use of sports mascots, such as the Washington Redskins, and cartoon imagery of our native people is offensive and damaging, the use of Geronimo, the likening of Seminoles to Al Qaeda, and the call to arms by Mayor Bloomberg have just elevated this issue to a true threat for all of America. It is an issue that can cause considerable social unrest and injustice. Where are you Mr. President? We stand prepared as heads of state to affect change, to instill hope and to prepare a better tomorrow for our children.
Mr. President, what is your legacy?
Tina Marie Osceola is the Historic Resources Officer for, and a member of, the Seminole Tribe of Florida. She has a BA in Political Science from Rollins College and an MPA from Nova Southeastern University.