White Earth Land Recovery Project

It’s time to call the Indian Wars to an end…

It’s time to call the Indian Wars to an end

[An MPRnews Commentary]
by Winona LaDuke
May 25, 2011

That the death of Osama bin Laden was relayed with the words “Geronimo EKIA [Enemy Killed in Action]” prompted a din of protest in the halls of Congress.

Harlan Geronimo, a great-grandson of Apache Chief Geronimo and an Army veteran of two tours in Vietnam, asked for a formal apology. He called the Pentagon’s decision to use the code name Geronimo a “grievous insult.”

His call for an apology was joined by most major Native American organizations. The Onondaga nation stated, “This continues to personify the original peoples of North America as enemies and savages. … The U.S. military leadership should have known better.”

It is an ironic moment in history. A hundred years after Geronimo’s death at Fort Sill, Okla. — where he died after 27 years as a prisoner of war, because he was Apache — this great patriot is accorded little peace.

The analogy, from a military perspective, is interesting. More than 5,500 military personnel were engaged in a 13-year pursuit of the Apache chief. He traveled with his community, including 35 men and 108 women and children, who in the end surrendered in exhaustion and were met with promises that were never fulfilled. It was one of the most expensive and shameful of the Indian Wars.

A hundred years later, similarly exorbitant amounts of both time and money have been spent finding Osama bin Laden, but that is where the analogy ends. Geronimo was a true patriot, his battles were in defense of his land, and he was a hero. The coupling of his name with the most vilified enemy of America in this millennium is dangerous ground.

But to the military, it is familiar ground. Native nomenclature in U.S. military affairs is widespread. FromApache Longbow andBlack Hawk helicopters toTomahawk missiles, the machinery of war has many Native names.

In a war zone, to leave the base is to “go off the reservation.” To move farther away is to go into “Indian territory.” Indeed, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visitedFort Carson in 2008 (named after the infamous Indian killer,Kit Carson). There, he instructed the troops to “live up to the legend of Kit Carson … fighting terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan, hunting the remnants of the deadly regime in Iraq, working with local populations to help secure victory. And every one of you is like Kit Carson.”

It may be time to end the Indian Wars.

Many military bases have been carved out of reservations and Indian territory, and at least 19 reservations are named after forts themselves (Fort Berthold, Fort Peck and Fort McDermitt among them).

The U.S. military has had a huge ecological impact on Native Hawaiian lands, ranging fromKaho’olawe toPohakuloa. The former is an entire island seized by the military in 1945, and the latter is being seized today, for the expansion of theStryker base. The U.S. military has detonated thousands of atomic weapons inWestern Shoshone territory and the Pacific, and until recently, Schofield Barracks in Honolulu was riddled with deadlydepleted uranium waste.

Despite these and other impacts, Native people enlist in the U.S. military in high numbers, and have the highest rate of living veterans of any community. These people deserve respect.

It’s been 100 years since Geronimo passed to the next world. It would seem that it is time to rethink the military’s use of terms like “Geronimo EKIA” and “the reservation.” It is indeed time to bring the Indian Wars to a close.

[View additional comments to this commentary at: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/05/25/laduke/]


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