As a native American (I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and have a long-term birth certificate to prove it) I suppose I should be outraged. Other self-described native Americans (aka American Indians) are positively seeing red (whoops, make that “angry”) today. Their pique is over the code name the U.S. military used for the operation to bag arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden, which was “Geronimo.”

Me, I would have been perfectly fine with the code name “Chaim,” which happens to be my Hebrew name, as long as the result of the mission was the same. If you agree that this is much ado about nothing, then you’ll be delighted to learn that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will be taking this grievous matter up in a hearing on racist Native American stereotypes. Your tax dollars at work!

Loretta Tuell, the committee’s chief (whoops, make that “lead”) counsel, said in a statement:

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 at Thursday’s hearing.

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

Debbie Reese, another American Indian, takes the lunacy a step further, writing on the Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog:

A Native frame of reference is one that is inundated with appropriation and misrepresentation of who we were, and who we are today. There are research studies that point to the negative effects of this sort of imagery on the self-esteem and self-efficacy of Native children. There are other studies that point to the high rates of suicide, and, to the high drop-out rates of our children.

If your (non-Native) point of view is Geronimo as the courageous leader, then you probably think the use of his name honors him and links him to the courage of  the Navy SEALS who carried out the operation. … If your point of view is Geronimo as the blood-thirsty savage, then you probably think that Geronimo was a terrorist.

So, American Indian children drop out of school and kill themselves because of low self-esteem brought on by stereotypes? I’d love to see those “research studies.” If these kids are that thin-skinned, what they really need is a marathon viewing of South Park. That’ll get their heads on straight.

As to the code name, it was applied to the mission, not the individual. And as for Loretta and Debbie’s hero, they do understand that Geronimo spent the last part of his storied military career fighting us “white men” and died a U.S. prisoner of war?

By the way, on second thought, I retract my comments about the appropriateness of “Chaim” as a code name, but not because it offends my Jewish sensibilities. It is because the word is Hebrew for life—not the best application for a mission to take out a mass murderer. Besides, what possible good could come of giving a mission a fierce Jewish code name, unless the goal was to get bin Laden to die laughing?

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