9/11, Bin Laden, and the Terrorisation of Indigenous Americans

The recent capture and killing of Osama bin Laden—the former head of terrorist organization Al-Queda , mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and overall #1 bad guy to the United States—has inadvertently brought to the surface some latent, yet disturbing, attitudes of the American Nation towards the Indigenous of Turtle Island.  Since the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, which was orchestrated by Bin Laden, language surfaced from the media and the public that, in the eyes of some, seemed to place this American catastrophe above those experienced by other peoples and it placed American Indians and their suffering on the back shelf of history.  And recently, the code name used by the U.S. Military for the termination of Osama’s reign of terror, which expired with the capture and killing of the head terrorist by a Navy Seal team, seems to suggest that the U.S. Government, as represented by their military, still views the Indigenous of America as an obstacle the U.S., if not as outright terrorists.

Like many in America, I remember the 9/11 attacks.  I remember being drawn to the news after the first plane hit Tower 1.  Soon after that, I remember seeing, live, the second plane hit Tower 2.  From that moment on, I and the whole nation were fixated on the news.  I surfed from channel to channel—even ESPN had live coverage of the tragedy.  All programming switched to 9/11.

Soon, the pundits added their analysis.  The media made declarations about the cultural impact of this onslaught: it was the first terrorist attack on American soil.  But, I began to wonder how true this assertion was.  Sure there was Timothy McVey and Oklahoma City.  But, he was just a lunatic American, not a real “terrorist”.  9/11 was committed by foreigners.  What about Pearl Harbor?  Well, that was in war time and that was an attack on our military.  This was different.  Foreigners had entered the American home and killed civilians.  Listening to the media, it became clear that this was a violation on the sanctity of this nation.  America had been wronged in the most grievous of ways, and a scar was forever set upon the American psyche.  This scar was so pronounced—the damage was gross and the strike was perpetrated upon very visible and symbolic American targets.

I too was upset about the assault.  The great loss of human life was disturbing, especially in a civilian environment.  The aggression was not warranted nor directly provoked.  Besides, my father-in-law was working in Tower 1 when the plane hit.  For most of the day, my wife didn’t know if her father survived the explosion of the planes.  Thankfully, he was below the impact and he vacated the area before the towers tumbled to the ground.

But this declaration– that this was the first terrorist attack on American soil– was being bounced around the media, and it had a visceral impact upon me.  It became a rallying point for the American media.  This gross violation of security and welfare upon the American nation was tremendous indeed.  But, I wondered: Was this the first act of terrorism that happened on American soil?  This question plagued me, and I began to ponder about terrorism in our lands.  So, I thought of a time when the people woke to the start of their day like any other day.


The people living within our national boundaries woke to have their breakfast and find their way to each of their respective jobs.  Some were already fast engaging their occupation.  And the American flag flew high and proud above the people.

Then, with no announcement and with no provocation, the enemy struck.  Beneath the stars and stripes, the enemy sent their attack.  The barrage from the attackers came with no discretion, no mercy—civilian men, woman, and children were slaughtered.  Some of the people had never met the enemy, never even engaged the enemy.

But the hell that the enemy inflicted brought fire and mass destruction to the people – all in the name of God.  The leader of the enemy stirred up the passion of enmity within his soldiers.  Calling the victims “infidels”, and reassuring his soldiers that they themselves were with God, the leader sent his assassins.  This was the war cry of a “religious” icon.

And when the great plumes of dust settled, many of the people were dead.  Bodies, and parts of bodies, lay strewn about.  No dignity was given to any of the deceased—the corpses lay exposed to the breaking morning sun, enlightening their now pale skin.

This day started like any other, but there now remained a great scar, a great torment within the People, from which many are still healing from.  But, this day was not September 11, 2001, the attack on the Twin Towers.  This date was November 29, 1864, and this story describes terror that the Reverend John Chivington inflicted upon Black Kettle and his People.  His People, in this story, were the Cheyenne and Arapaho of the area now known as Colorado.

This story, however, being so similar to the many tragedies inflicted upon the Indigenous of America, speaks to many Indian Nations.  And thus, the People in this trauma are also each of the People living on Turtle Island.  When other non-Cheyenne/non-Arapaho hear this story, they too understand the pain that lingers from this attack.

Here, Black Kettle raised the American flag proudly above his camp—not for love of the settlers of America that came into his homeland.  He flew that flag because he worked hard for establishing a peace between his People and the American military.  He assumed, wrongly, that the American settlers would respect their own flag and honor the people who waved it.  Unfortunately, it was a “man of the cloth”, Rev. Chivington, who in a time of peace brought terror, destruction, death, and trauma to Black Kettle and his People.

Natives who have a cultural understanding of their history identify with the pain—still present today—that was inflicted upon these Cheyenne and Arapaho about 150 years ago.  So, when the 9/11 attack brought up fear and commotion within American popular culture, and the media started to spew the rhetoric of this aggression being the first act of terrorism on American soil—it rang hollow to many.

These words are not offered to belittle nor diminish the tragedy of 9/11.  Thousands of innocent people died that day, and the pain of that attack is still alive within the living victims today.  Pain is pain; an unprovoked attack is an unprovoked attack.  These words are offered, in part, to let the victims of terror know they are not alone.  Other people suffered from these types of onslaught before, some for hundreds of years.  And there are those who still remember those previous offensives and still feel the pain.  And, maybe, if all people engage in a dialogue about these aggressions a healing may begin.

For Indian People, one question to initiate this dialogue could be: Why did the U.S. military use the code name “Geronimo” for Osama Bin Laden?  Why would the military us the name of one of the most highly revered leaders of the Indigenous of America as the nick name of America’s most hated foe?  Would it not have been easier to refer to Bin Laden by “Adolf” or “Hitler”—names that are almost universally reviled, by Indigenous and Settler alike?  Does the U.S. military actively want to associate the terror and animosity linked to Osama and Al Queda with the Indigenous of America—that we continue to represent, after hundreds of years of oppression and colonization, that great threat to the ideals of America?

I heard a justification that the code name was given to honor the Apache leader.  That reminds me of the response my old high school district gave for wanting to keep the Indian mascot instead of changing it.  Or perhaps there is an ongoing desire to retaliate against Goyathlay (Geronimo’s Apache name) for all the embarrassment he caused the 4th Cavalry?  It is rumored that the members of Skull and Bones (a secret society at Yale University) stole the skull and bones of Geronimo and have deposited it in their collection of human remains.  Maybe this de-patriation, and this code name, are payback for the effectiveness of Geronimo against the U.S. military?  Despite the fact that the U.S. military has supreme technology and an astronomical budget, Osama Bin Laden eluded America for ten years after the 9/11 attack, much like Geronimo had done 125 years prior.

With utterance of a small phrase by a Navy Seal Team-6 operative—“Geronimo E-KIA”, meaning “Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action”—the Obama Administration, CIA, and Military intelligence all celebrated.  After the infiltration of the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan, Osama was killed on sight and his corpse taken back via helicopter.  And finally, after the identity of Bin Laden was confirmed onboard an aircraft carrier, the body of Osama was laid to rest at sea— out of reach any person’s hand, least of all any of his adherents— all so that no nation would have to deal with a “martyr’s” gravesite.  The man that had plagued the security and safety of America had been captured by the same nation and his remains relegated away from human access.

The killing and capture of Bin Laden and his body, interestingly, bears resemblance to the ultimate demise of Geronimo himself.  Geronimo, in his time, like many other Indian leaders, was viewed as one of the main enemies to the United States for trying to protect his own people from being corralled unto restrictive and stifling reservations, according to some.  After many years of engaging and evading the U.S. military, Geronimo eventually surrendered and was later sent to prison.  And finally, after Geronimo had passed to the other side and was seemingly “laid to rest” in a grave, his remains were de-patriated from the earth and taken to the mausoleum of a secret society at Yale, access denied to all except for a select few elite who are tapped to be in that society.  Geronimo and Bin Laden didn’t necessarily share the same ideology or political motivation for fighting—in the end, Geronimo fought, in part, to preserve the integrity of his people and his Mother Earth.  Unfortunately, Geronimo and Bin Laden shared the same enemy.  The Apache warrior who fought so valiantly for his Mother, now lays detached from the land from where the Creator had created him.

These observations are not offered to show alignment between the Indigenous of Turtle Island and Al Queda of the Near East.  When Bin Laden earned the hatred of America, he had sent his suicide pilots to the American shores.  Whereas the heroes of our Indigenous—such as Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Manuelito, among many others—were fighting to preserve their traditional way of life with their Mother from the invasion of America.  For many Indigenous, the goal of life is to maintain this sacred relationship that was bestowed upon them by the Creator; the goal is not to impose your spiritual values and beliefs upon another people.  Ultimately, the similarities between Bin Laden and Geronimo were drawn by the U.S. Military itself when they gave the former leader the code name of the name of the latter leader.

A code name is a tool of linguistic efficiency in a community, but in this instance a code name is a small scratch reopening a very large, and unhealed, wound for American Indians.  Each of the Indigenous Peoples of America was given land and a way of life by the Creator.  Unfortunately, the existence of the Indigenous became an obstacle to formation and development of the American Nation.  And the clash of the Indigenous and America has led to many traumatic and painful episodes, particularly for the Indigenous.  In the end, the code that the U.S. Military used for the killing of Bin Laden may have been a simple oversight.  Unfortunately, this simple tool makes the Original People of this land feel as criminals, or terrorists, for trying to follow the lessons of their Creator.

It is a very strong accusation to assert that the U.S. Government views American Indians as terrorist foes.  However, given the history of acrimony on behalf of the former party towards the latter, this accusation is not without merit and should not at least be examined.  Because the use of the code name Geronimo for Bin Laden is, at least, insensitive, and, at most, egregious racism—the U.S. Military should strongly think about offering a full and complete apology for inappropriate use of the Bin Laden code word.


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