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Geronimo code for bin Laden offends Native Americans

Native American leaders have expressed their anger at the use of the name "Geronimo" as a code for America's number one enemy.

Situation room 2011 5 2Enlarge
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. (Pete Souza, The White House/Getty Images)

Native American leaders in the United States have said the use of the code name "Geronimo" for Osama bin Laden gravely offends them as it mischaracterizes the Apache warrior and links Native Americans to the country's biggest enemy.

"To associate a native warrior with bin Laden is not an accurate reflection of history, and it undermines the military service of native people," according to a statement by Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, as reported in AFP.

Geronimo was a legendary warrior born in modern-day New Mexico who led the Apache resistance against Mexican soldiers and white Americans.

The name was used as a military code by the Obama administration during the raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan on Sunday. After the Navy SEAL team stormed bin Laden's compound and killed him, they announced: "Geronimo E KIA," or enemy killed in action.

Keel noted that 77 U.S. troops of Native American origin have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001, and another 400 have been wounded, it states.

The chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, Jeff House, demanded an apology from President Obama for misusing their hero's name.

"We are quite certain that the use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama bin Laden was based on misunderstood and misconceived historical perspectives of Geronimo and his armed struggle against the United States and Mexican government," he wrote from Apache, Oklahoma, near the burial place of the warrior, AFP states.

A congressional oversight hearing will now discuss the linking of the name Geronimo to bin Laden, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will host the hearing, titled "Stolen Identities: The Impact of Racist Stereotypes on Indigenous People."

"The hearing was scheduled well before the Osama bin Laden operation became news, but the concerns over the linking of the name of Geronimo, one of the greatest Native American heroes, with the most hated enemies of the United States is an example of the kinds of issues we intended to address," Loretta Tuell, the committee's chief counsel, said in a statement to the Times.

"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. "We intend to open the forum to talk about them."

The narrative for America's so-called hunt for bin Laden has been linked with Wild West imagery since 2001, states a BBC report.

George W. Bush called for the Al Qaeda leader to be captured "dead or alive," a reference to movie posters from old westerns.