Tribal chairman Jeff Houser sent a letter to the president on Tuesday, claiming that equating the legendary Apache warrior to a “mass murderer and cowardly terrorist” was painful and offensive to all Native Americans. The letter was posted on the Oklahoma tribe’s website.
“Right now Native American children all over this country are facing the reality of having one of their most revered figures being connected to a terrorist and murderer of thousands of innocent Americans,” he wrote. “Think about how they feel at this point.”
Houser noted Obama was elected on a message of compassion and change.
Forever linking the memory of Geronimo to “one of the most despicable enemies this country has ever had” shows neither compassion to Native Americans nor change in perception of Indians or their struggle, he said.
The US Defence Department said no disrespect was meant.
The department wouldn’t elaborate but said code names are chosen randomly so those working on a mission can communicate without divulging any information to adversaries.
News about the code name spread quickly across Indian Country and on social network sites, leading to a groundswell of criticism. Other tribes voiced their disapproval, while Facebook and Twitter users changed their profile pictures to the Apache leader in a show of support.
Geronimo is a legend among Apaches and other Indian tribes for the fierce fighting he brought on during the 19th century as he tried to protect his land, his people and their way of life from US and Mexican armies.