On May 1, 2011 news broke from the White House that a Navy SEALS team had found and killed Osama bin Laden. News spread fast, throughout the country as many were elated, but for Indian country there was a mix of feelings that continue even on the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
Following the initial news of his death came news that Geronimo was used as the code word in reference to bin Laden. The message President Barack Obama received one year ago from the SEALS was “Geronimo-EKIA”—“Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action.”
“To most Indians, it was an offense of the highest order. In their minds, Geronimo, the leader of the Chiricahua Apache, who lived from 1829 until 1909, was not a terrorist like bin Laden. In resisting American advances into Apache territory in the 1800s, he was protecting his Indian relatives and community against the true terrorists—colonists and pioneers who were stealing land, water and other resources that rightfully belonged to Indians,” Indian Country Today Media Network reported on May 11, 2011. “The consensus among contemporary Indians after bin Laden’s death was that, yes, Geronimo defied the U.S. government by eluding capture, but he was doing so because they were terrorizing him and his people, not because he was a terrorist. That the American military still doesn’t see that distinction was disappointing to many. Indians quickly united to tell America what they thought about the military’s hurtful and harmful error.”
In a March 27, 2012 interview with Fort Sill Apache Chairman Jeff Houser (excerpt from an upcoming interview conducted by Brian Daffron), the chairman addressed the use of Geronimo’s name in reference to bin Laden.
“I was pretty surprised. We typically stay away from issues relating to Geronimo especially. It’s kind of a custom. There started to be a groundswell of opposition, and I felt that as leader of the tribe—the successor to the tribe that Geronimo was in—we needed to say something,” he said. “We wrote a letter to President Obama, asking him for an apology. That’s really it. It was unfortunate. We also proposed at [National Congress of American Indians] this past November a resolution that asked the federal government not to use Native icons, names or representations for their military actions until they have a consultation process with the tribes…We were surprised and disappointed.”
For some the anniversary is still a harsh reminder of continuous treatment towards Native Americans.
“[The code name] Geronimo is just the tip of the iceberg of all of this stuff. It’s a culmination of all of the inhumane and abusive treatment by this country. And it hasn’t stopped. It continues,” Donna Loring, former representative for the Penobscot Indian Nation to the Maine legislature, said in a phone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “I guess my question is when is it going to stop. What do we have to do? When are they going to listen to what we say? Is it because they don’t hear Native people so maybe we should have a non-Native person speak for us? I don’t know it’s pretty damned frustrating.
“This country is supposed to be so far ahead of everyone else on human rights yet they’ve built this country on the bodies of Native Americans and Native American veterans and they get away with it. And make such a loud noise about what the Chinese are doing to dissidents when in fact they have Native people right now in concentration camps – on reservations and they don’t allow us the economic tools to be equal with everybody else. If you don’t believe me on that just look at Maine and the gaming situation it [Maine] allows a number of ‘white’ businesses and organizations to offer Class III gaming, but not the Wabanaki nations.
“There are just so many examples of how this country is unfair to Native people across the board with policies and everything else,” she added.
Loring served in Vietnam from 1967 through the Tet Offensive in 1968.