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'Geronimo' and Osama bin Laden: What goes into a code name?

'Geronimo EKIA' is what special forces said when Osama bin Laden was killed. Code names can provide some insight into what an agency is thinking. Che Guevara had a curious one, too.

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The story of Geronimo

Bin Laden and Geronimo both evaded the US government for nearly a decade, but Native American groups say the similarities end there.

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Geronimo, a Chiricahua Apache, became a hero to Native Americans in the 1800s as a symbol for anticolonialism. He battled Mexican and American troops for nearly 30 years, protesting the relocation of native peoples to reservations. He avoided capture during a decade-long manhunt that used 5,000 soldiers, as he and his followers refused to accept American sovereignty over the West. Geronimo finally surrendered in 1886, and remained a prisoner of war until his death in 1909.

"He was one of the brightest, most resolute, determined-looking men that I have ever encountered,” wrote General Nelson A. Miles, who pursued Geronimo and eventually accepted his surrender.

Native American columnists say associating Geronimo with bin Laden reaffirms the notion that Native Americans are not truly accepted in American society.

“Embedded within it is a message that an Indian warrior, a symbol of Native American survival in the face of racial annihilation, is associated with modern terrorism and the attacks on 9/11,” wrote Lise Balk King for Indian Country Today Media Network.

Native Americans in the armed forces

Today, a higher proportion of Native Americans serve in the US military than any other ethnic group. In 2007, they made up 0.7 percent of the US population but represented 2.7 percent of the armed forces.

“They let us serve their country and die for them and then they tag us with this? All the Indian Veterans are angry,” Vietnam veteran Lloyd Goings told the Native Times.

The Onondaga Nation council of chiefs released a statement blasting the government’s use of Geronimo, and saying that World War II’s famous codebreaking Windtalkers saved thousands of Allied lives, even as they were persecuted at home.

“Ironically these brave men and women were using languages that American and Canadian boarding schools were doing their best to stamp out,” said the statement.

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