A file picture of native American warrior Geronimo. (AP)
May 5 (AP): The US Senate Indian Affairs Committee didnt know when it scheduled a hearing on racial stereotypes that members would have such an emotionally charged name to discuss.
But the use of the Apache leaders moniker as a code name for Osama bin Laden has appalled many native Americans and drawn calls for an apology.
The legendary warrior was known for his ability to walk without leaving footprints, allowing him to evade thousands of Mexican and US soldiers, much like Osama evaded capture for the past decade.
But for native Americans, there is an important difference: Geronimo was a hero not a terrorist.
Statements of disapproval from tribal leaders, a call for President Barack Obama to apologise, and scores of angry comments on social network sites have surged since the issue came to light after Osama was killed.
Tomorrows hearing was scheduled long before details about the Geronimo code name became public.
However, the committee will address the matter, said Loretta Tuell, staff director and chief counsel for the committee.
Many Native Americans say that while they are angered, they are not surprised. They say the code name is yet another insult in a long, tumultuous history with the federal government. The government does what it wants when it wants. The name calling is going to stay around forever. But when you think about it, this is an insult, said Leon Curley, a Navajo and Marine veteran from Gallup, New Mexico.
Jeff Houser, chairman of Geronimos Fort Sill Apache Tribe, noted in a letter to Obama that the decision behind the code name stemmed from an ongoing cultural disconnect, not malice. But the damage is the same.
We are quite certain that the use of the name Geronimo as a code for Osama bin Laden was based on misunderstood and misconceived historical perspectives of Geronimo and his armed struggle against the US and Mexican governments, Houser wrote.
However, to equate Geronimo or any other native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our tribe and to all native Americans.
The White House referred questions on the matter to the US defence department, which said no disrespect was meant to native Americans.
The department would not elaborate on the use of Geronimos name but said code names typically are chosen randomly and allow those working on a mission to communicate without divulging information to adversaries.The Apaches are not alone when it comes to battling the impact of stereotypes.
The Seminole tribe of Florida is still waiting to for an apology from Obama over a court brief filed earlier this year that compared the tribes ancestors to al Qaida. The defence department clarified the use of the Seminole reference, but it was not enough for the tribe, chairman Mitchell Cypress said in a letter to the President yesterday.
Once again, our nations native people were categorised as terrorists, he wrote, referring to the Geronimo code name.
The time has never been more appropriate and necessary for you to issue an apology to Native America."