Indian Tribe Seeks Apology for Use of Code Name Geronimo for Bin Laden

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe leader is demanding that President Obama apologize for the government's use of the code name "Geronimo for terrorist Usbama bin Laden.

Tribal Chairman Jeff Houser asked for the apology in a letter sent Tuesday to the president.

"We are grateful that the United States was successful in its mission against Bin Laden, but associating Geronimo's name with an international terrorist only perpetuates old stereotypes about Apaches," Houser wrote.

"In the 1800's, Geronimo and the Chiricahua Apache people were portrayed as savages," he added. "This portrayal was used as justification for the forced removal from their homelands and their subsequent imprisonment. Linking Geronimo's name to an infamous terrorist only reinforces this false and defamatory stereotype."

The letter was posted Wednesday morning on the tribe's website, and the tribe's administration confirmed it was from Houser.

A legendary warrior in the Oklahamo's tribe, 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.

Houser says equating Geronimo or any other Native American figure with a "mass murderer and cowardly terrorist" is painful and offensive.

The top staffer for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee also objects to the code name.

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.

Tuell is a member of the Nez Perce tribe and grew up 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.

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, "Usama 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.