Navajo leaders object to Geronimo code name

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 5, 2011

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The reports from Pakistan to President Barack Obama on May 1 stated, "Geronimo EKIA."

EKIA is the acronym for enemy killed in action.

Geronimo was the code name for Osama Bin Laden, America's public enemy No. 1.

Mexican soldiers reportedly gave Goyathlay, which means One Who Yawns, the name Geronimo.

During the mid- and late 1800's, Goyathlay was legendary for resisting the takeover of Apache homelands by Mexican and white settlers and repeatedly escaping from military prison camps or reservations.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie said on Tuesday that he was deeply offended with the U.S. government using Geronimo as the code name for Bin Laden.

"It seems kind of odd that they have to use a Native American as a bad icon," Yazzie said. "Native Americans are not bad. Geronimo was trying to fight for his people, just like Chief Manuelito and Sitting Bull.

"I think the military owes us an apology," he added. "When I talk to students, they ask if racism is still alive and look at this. This is a prime example that it is."

Yazzie said he would propose legislation to the Council for the U.S. to apologize for using Geronimo as the code name for Bin Laden.

On Wednesday, President Ben Shelly called the use of Geronimo as the codename for Bin Laden "dehumanizing, unethical" and a perpetuation of "international ignorance" toward every Native American living in the U.S.

Shelly called on Obama and the Pentagon to change the code name so that U.S. history books will not continue to portray negative stereotypes of Native people and America's youth will remember Geronimo as "one of our greatest war heroes."

He added, "As the leader of the largest Indian nation in America, I am appalled and disappointed that United States military leaders would dishonor the legacy of war leader - Geronimo and the Apache tribes, as well as all Native American service men and women and our own Navajo Nation Code Talkers, who have fought hard for the freedom of all Americans.

"The Navajo Nation respects the Apache tribes, as having some of the fiercest warriors and the finest light Calvary the world has ever known," Shelly said.

Today (May 5), the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is holding a hearing titled "Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People."

The hearing "will explore how Indian mascots, common caricatures and prevalent mis-portrays have far-reaching impacts on the identity and sense of self-worth of Native peoples and negatively impact how all Americans perceive and relate to each other," according to the committee's website.

Loretta Tuell, the committee's chief counsel, was quoted in an ABC news note on Wednesday saying, "The hearing was scheduled well before the Osama Bin Laden operation became news, but the concerns over the linking of the name Geronimo, one of the greatest Native American heroes, with the most hated enemies of the United States is an example of the kinds of issues we intended to address at Thursday's hearing.

"These inappropriate uses of Native American icons and cultures are prevalent throughout our society, and the impacts to Native and non-Native children are devastating," Tuell said. "We intend to open the forum to talk about them."

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, committee chairman, said, "Our hearing is about the real harm that is done to all people, Native and non-Native alike, when mascots, movies and images reinforce the stereotypes and the lines that divide rather than unite us."

In another incident in March, U.S. Department of Defense compared Seminole ancestors to the terrorist group al-Qaeda in a case in the U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida petitioned the defense department to remove this portion of the case: "Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against US targets itself violate the customs and usage of war."

Seminole tribal counsel Jim Shore said, "To equate the historic struggle of our ancestors in resisting General Andrew Jackson's unlawful invasion of our homeland to al Qaeda terrorism is a vicious distortion of well-documented history.

"The government's strained comparison of Native Americans to al Qaeda is disrespectful to our tribe, all American Indians and our American Indian military veterans, as well as those in active military service," he said.

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