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Tribe leaders decry use of 'Geronimo' for bin Laden
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some American Indian leaders, including Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, are asking the Obama administration for an apology for after U.S. intelligence officials used "Geronimo" as the code name for Osama bin Laden.

In Utah, Forrest Cuch, a Ute tribe member and former director of the state Division of Indian Affairs, said using the name of an American Indian icon as the operational handle for the 9/11 mastermind was ironic.

"He was a victim of terror himself," Cuch said Thursday of the Chiricahua Apache. "His family was attacked [by Mexican units] when he was a young man. His wife and children were killed. He vowed revenge and became a great warrior and leader."

Labeling bin Laden as Geronimo is "the same mentality as using Indians as mascots at universities," Cuch said. "It encourages the notion that we're aggressive and violent. But we've never had the chance to discuss that."

But not all American Indians are offended. Lora Tom, chairwoman of the Cedar City band of Paiutes, said Thursday she is not overly concerned about the use of the name Geronimo as bin Laden's target moniker.

She said she understands why it was chosen, noting that the Apache leader was similar to bin Laden in that he knew his surrounding terrain well and that allowed him to elude capture.

But unlike bin Laden, Geronimo did a lot of good for a lot of people, Tom said.

"I can see where some would be offended, and I was a little taken back, but not that upset," she said.

Geronimo fought against armies from Mexico and the United States in territories that are now Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. For decades, he was sought with little success by either country. Many believed Geronimo had special powers. He escaped capture on a number of occasions and reportedly survived several gunshot wounds.

The Apache warrior surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1886 at age 57. He died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Okla.

Mark Maryboy, former commissioner of Utah's San Juan County and a one-time member of the Navajo Tribal Council, said calling bin Laden by the Apache warrior's name is insulting to most American Indians.

"It's offensive if you look at the history of [Geronimo] himself," he said. "Geronimo is viewed as a good person [by American Indians]. Every society has heroes and warriors. But if you associate him with bin Laden, then that's offensive to natives."

Shelly issued a statement Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" that U.S. leaders would dishonor the legacy of Geronimo "as well as all Native American servicemen and women and our own Navajo Nation Code Talkers, who have fought for the freedom of all Americans."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 11 Navajos have lost their lives in the war on terror, Shelly said.

"To assign the code name 'Geronimo' to America's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is dehumanizing, unethical and perpetuates international ignorance toward every Native American living in the United States today," the statement said.

csmart@sltrib.com

Warrior icon • The Apache legend is revered as a hero by American Indians.
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