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Apache chief Geronimo, right, and other tribal members in 1886.

Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons, Arizona Historical Society

Geronimo nothing like Osama bin Laden

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN
  • Star Tribune
  • May 3, 2011 - 5:52 PM

Earth to President Obama: The Apache Nation thinks you and the U.S. military are sorely in need of diversity training – and that’s putting it mildly.

Tribal members are offended that the U.S. code name for the mission to capture Osama bin Laden was "Geronimo," an Apache hero whom they insist was never a terrorist.

"It’s insulting and hurtful," said Vernon Petago, a member of the Jicarillia Apache Tribe at the northern tip of New Mexico. "What were they thinking? They applied a respected Apache leader’s name to the most despicable terrorist in the world."

U.S. officials haven’t yet said why the name was chosen. But they’ve made clear that when U.S. special forces reported the news of bin Laden’s death to the Obama administration, the message was: "Geronimo EKIA" (enemy killed in action).

"Linking Geronimo’s name to bin Laden was uncalled for," Petago said. "As a Native American, I resent it. It sounds like the people in government are ignorant of our history – or maybe they just don’t care."

Some historians say Geronimo was a nickname first given by Mexico soldiers to Goyahkla, a 19th century Native American chief who fought to prevent the U.S. and Mexico from overtaking tribal lands.

The military saw him as a murderous thug who targeted white settlers. Today, some historians view him as a leader trying desperately to save his people. He eluded capture for nearly three decades.

"Geronimo was a respected leader of the Apache people," Petago said. "He did everything to help his people survive. They tried to live in peace, but the military kept harassing and terrorizing them."

Susan Hogan is Star Tribune editorial writer.

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