WASHINGTON >> The top staffer for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is objecting to the U.S. military’s use of the code name "Geronimo" for Osama bin Laden during the raid that killed the al-Qaida leader.
Geronimo was an Apache leader in the 19th century who spent many years fighting the Mexican and U.S. armies until his surrender in 1886.
Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Tuesday it was inappropriate to link Geronimo, whom she called "one of the greatest Native American heroes," with one of the most hated enemies of the United States.
"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.
Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel K. Akaka is the chairman of the committee. Tuell is a member of the Nez Perce tribe and grew on the tribe’s reservation in Idaho. The Senate Indian Affairs panel had previously scheduled a hearing for Thursday on racial stereotypes of native people. Tuell said the use of Geronimo in the bin Laden raid will be discussed.
"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," Akaka said.
Steven Newcomb, a columnist for the weekly newspaper Indian Country Today, criticized what he called a disrespectful use of a name revered by many Native Americans.
"Apparently, having an African-American president in the White House is not enough to overturn the more than 200-year American tradition of treating and thinking of Indians as enemies of the United States," Newcomb wrote.
After bin Laden was killed, the military sent a message back to the White House: "Geronimo EKIA" — enemy killed in action.
"It’s another attempt to label Native Americans as terrorists," said Paula Antoine of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.
A White House spokesman referred questions about the code name to the Pentagon. A Defense Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Jefferson Keel, president of National Congress of American Indians, the largest organization representing American Indians and Alaska Natives, said, "Osama bin Laden was a shared enemy."
Keel said that since 2001, 77 American Indians and Alaskan Natives have died defending the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 400 have been wounded.