Winona LaDuke Explores The Militarization of Indian Country From Geronimo to Bin Laden
Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist and twice Ralph Nader’s Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate , has written a dramatic and prescient book, The Militarization of Indian Country (Honor the Earth). Completed in February 2011, the book is currently at press and comes on the heels of the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, also known as “Geronimo EKIA” (Enemy Killed in Action). When the code name for bin Laden was revealed, Native American groups sat up and took notice. Harlyn Geronimo, a great grandson of the legendary Apache chief, asked Congress for a formal apology.
As a member of the Mescalero Apache Nation, Geronimo is an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam. In a statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Geronimo demanded, “That this use of the name Geronimo” be expunged “from all the records of the U.S. government;” adding “to equate Geronimo with Osama bin Laden is an unpardonable slander of Native America and its most famous leader in history.”
Which brings us to the timely publication of LaDuke’s book. In it she uses considerable scholarly prowess to examine how and why Native culture has become inextricably entwined with military institutions. Consider that the names the military uses for operations and weapons come straight from Native nomenclature. In recent war accounts, the American media wrote vividly about the use of “Apache Longbow” and “Black Hawk” helicopters as “Tomahawk” missiles rained from the sky in the Gulf and Middle East Wars. Soldiers who burn out in the battlefield in a foreign land “go off the reservation.” The implication is that they flee to Indian land.
In a transcript of an interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” LaDuke charges this terminology and the use of the code name “Geronimo” for bin Laden represent “the continuation of the wars against indigenous people.”
Those who disagree might say that LaDuke is relying upon “political correctness” to make her point, but read the book and what emerges goes straight to the heart and soul of the militarization of not just Indian culture, but mainstream American ethos as well.
We visited with LaDuke at Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, where she lives, and asked her to elaborate on the military’s use of Native terminology in the bin Laden affair.
I understand why they did it, he (Bin Laden) was expensive to fight, he was elusive, and he was smart. He had far more political support than Geronimo. Obviously Pakistan liked him. The problem with the use of the code word, “Geronimo” shows a lack of the historical understanding of using the name of such a national hero, and not just to native people. Geronimo is also a national hero to Americans. In this case it is an insult. The book illustrates how the military has always been above reproach.
The Militarization of Indian Country examines in dreadful detail how the military has poisoned, murdered, and exterminated parts of indigenous populations. It is carefully organized into sections examining the deep ties between the military and indigenous people, how the economy drives the military and vice-versa, the military’s appropriation of Indian lands, and a somewhat hopeful prognosis for future relations if America rethinks her priorities.
In this well-researched, critical, and historical analysis, LaDuke at times takes the stance of a spiritual teacher, redefining and correcting the common interpretation of what it means to be a “warrior.” LaDuke uses both a scholarly and soulful process; reclaiming the breadth and depth of Native spirituality on behalf of her people, and giving the reader concise insight into a belief and honor system that is unique in its interpretation of war, its responsibilities, and its consequences.
I do not hate the military. I do despise militarization and its impacts on men, women, children, and the land. The chilling facts are that the US is the largest purveyor of weapons in the world, and that billions of people have no land, food, and often, limbs, because of the military funded by my tax dollars.
LaDuke begins her narrative at the Fort Sill army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, where she says the Skull and Bones society of Yale is still accused of “grave robbing, exhuming, stealing and then desecrating the bones of Goyathlay, or Geronimo, the great Apache chief.” Today, the Comanche nation is asking for an agreement that the military not destroy the sacred site of Medicine Bluff.
“A small request, it would seem, at the only active military installation still remaining from the Indian Wars of the 1800s, and at the largest artillery range in the world,” LaDuke writes. cont’d on page 2
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