From left to right, Charlene Teters, Suzan Shown Harjo and Tex Hall provide testimony to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the committee's Hearing on the Impact of Stereotypes of Indigenous People.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Tribal, State Leaders Deride ‘Geronimo’ Nickname Before Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
by Shaun Loretto Griswold, Dawn of Nations Today

Native American leaders expressed their outrage about the use of Geronimo as code name for the mission to hunt Osama Bin Laden, during a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs meeting on May 5.

“The man who has become a fine role model for our children all over Indian Country, for him to be compared to a terrorist and to be called an enemy is shocking,” Suzan Harjo said in front of the committee. “It’s really shocking that this happened.”

Harjo, Morning Star Institute President a Washington D.C. based think tank for Native Americans, was one of a half dozen American Indian leaders who expressed their concerns about the use of the Apache leader's name.

The meeting was previously scheduled to discuss negative racial stereotypes before the news broke about the code name, but Native American leaders and Committee members brought up the issue in the meeting.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said the issue was offensive.

“I find the association of Geronimo with Bin Laden highly inappropriate and culturally insensitive,” Udall said. “It highlights a serious issue, and the very issue why we’ve come here to discuss today, a socially ingrained acceptance of derogatory portrayals of indigenous people.”

Tex Hall displays images of Native people in American media.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

On May 1, President Barack Obama confirmed Bin Laden had been killed during a shoot out in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A member from the U.S. Navy SEALS sent a message to the White House that said, "Geronimo (EKIA)," or enemy killed in action. That resulted in a firestorm from Native American activists who were upset over the portrayal of Geronimo as a terrorist. The military later confirmed the mission was called Geronimo and Bin Laden himself was code named “Jackpot."

In the Committee meeting leaders and U.S. Senators, who make up the committee, talked about the continued use of Native American images as mascots for sports team and the psychological effects they have on Native American people.

However, those topics were overshadowed by the use of Geronimo as code name to hunt Bin Laden.

Udall's office asked the military how the code name was chosen but was told by military officials that they were randomly selected and that military officials would not disclose further information on the subject, he said.

Udall also noted that, per capita, Native Americans enlist in the military more than any other ethnic group in the country.

As of 2010, 42 Native American soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Department of Defense.

Harlyn Geronimo, an Army Veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and a relative of Geronimo, sent a statement to the committee that said he wants the U.S. military to eliminate all records that the Bin Laden mission was code named Geronimo. However, he doesn't want people to forget the outrage it created.

Harjo said the incident is just one of many historical cases where Native Americans have been wrongfully labeled and mistreated.

“When we are slurred in public like this, we all take offense,” she said. “That’s what happens in America. Our names are not our own, they’re stolen, our tribal names, our personal names, and then we’re renamed, in order to control us.”

From left to right, Charlene Teters, Suzan Shown Harjo and Tex Hall testify in front of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on how stereotypes impact Native people.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs


Download Suzan Shown Harjo's Full Statement (pdf)

Link to Senate Indian Affairs Hearing:



Rebuilding Homes In St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana After Hurricane Katrina
By Shawna T. Nelson, Dawn of Nations Today

When students from the St. Bernard Parish uniform school in Louisiana step off their bus, a basketball goal with a broken backboard greets them. About 1,300 miles away, on the Navajo reservation, students make their way off of their buses and over to the basketball goals that are imbedded in almost every dirt driveway.

In March, I went to New Orleans as part of the University of New Mexico’s Alternative Spring Break, where a group of UNM students and faculty traveled to Louisiana to help rebuild houses through the St. Bernard Project.

I grew up on the Navajo reservation and had only watched on television and heard about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the trip was far from my expectations of an ideal Spring Break.

I chose the alternative spring break the university offered because at the time anything seemed better than lounging around at home. At the time of the application process in January, those involved weren’t sure where the destination was going to be but I signed up anyway.

When I heard that the spring break involved building houses for Hurricane Katrina victims, I was excited. I was also excited because I had never been down South.

The St. Bernard Project is a New Orleans-based non-profit that organizes volunteers to rebuild houses for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Before I left for Louisiana, those familiar with the place and culture, told me to eat this and go here and go there, so my goals were to do just that.
Once there we flourished ourselves with beignets, poyboys, eggplant fries, gumbo and jambalaya, in the French Quarter, the distinctive downtown of New Orleans. We took part in the ever-so-famous tradition of decorating ourselves with beads on Bourbon Street and took in the amazing views of the NFL New Orleans Saints’ Superdome.

From a touristy stance it seemed like a different world to this Navajo reservation girl, but I later learn that the victims of that horrific week in August of 2005 were not so different than my people.

Everyday I woke up at 7:45 a.m. and arrived at a building location by 8:30 a.m., with just enough time to eat breakfast.

Several of us worked at a house for about seven hours under the instruction of a project leader. It was there that I learned to use day-to-day tools like a saw machine and nail gun used to input baseboards on a house.

After each day’s work we would return to our dorm-style living headquarters at the Christian Fellowship Center. We’d wash up and head out to explore the beautiful city in our minivan.
We drove from one landmark to another but the most captivating was the area in which I spent a large part of my days building houses.

The houses made of brick withstood the flood and stood there looking regal and almost untouched. Those from the area and those who had worked such long periods of time rebuilding frequently told stories. They told of how water reached attics, and how it took weeks for it to go down. And for those houses not made of brick all that was left were the cement driveways. I saw the evidence for myself every time I went out into the field. I tried to imagine the houses that once stood and the businesses that once occupied St. Bernard Parish County.

The thought was devastating, and I felt sorry for the people who lost their homes and their lives. But even in all of that I felt more for the Navajo people back home on the reservation. Some people, to this day, live with very little water and in poverty.

I started to compare and contrast the similarities and differences the destruction Hurricane Katrina left to the people in Louisiana to the Navajo reservation, which has never seen a hurricane but looks like it’s been thorough worse. I thought of how the victims of the hurricane had people like me and an organization like the St. Bernard Project building houses for them. I thought of the large amount of attention the victims got in a matter of days when my people can hardly get major media outlets to look twice.

And I thought strangely about how good they had it compared to many people on the Navajo Nation.

The hurricane was devastating, and most people’s lives might never be the same. But here at home, the Navajo people continue to struggle and have struggled for a very long time.
But even though both places have suffered many losses, they are similar in the fact that they both still show great pride in their communities.

My spring break turned into more than a min-vacation. After seeing everything I had seen back home and in New Orleans, I can honestly say I’ve developed a lot more respect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and also for my own people.


New Mexico Chile Faces Genetic Modification
by José Enriquez, Dawn of Nations Today

One morning, the Daily Lobo featured an article about Governor Martinez signing House Bill (HB) 485 into law . I mention HB 485 because it should be of interest to all of us chile aficionados. HB 485, the New Mexico Chile Advertisement act, makes it illegal for chile grown outside of the state to be labeled as “Hatch” or “NM Grown.”  Sounds great, right? But for true chile enthusiast like me, this doesn’t even begin to protect our home grown chile.  Like most crops, New Mexico chile faces genetic modification.

Currently the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University (NMSU) is breeding several varieties of chile with the prefix “NuMex.” While this effort seems to show concern for the state of chile and its integrity, to me it’s all a façade. As of recently, NMSU developed “NuMex Jalmundo,” a cross between jalapeno and bell pepper. But it use will probably be limited to commercial farming to please our region’s seemingly insatiable appetite for jalapeno poppers.  It’s going to have a larger diameter, ideal for stuffing with cheese.

The New Mexico Chile Association (NMCA), a non-profit of growers and producers concerned with the steep decline of chile production, lobbied hard for HB 485 this past legislative session. What struck me as strange, aside from the editing on the site, was that the association didn’t list genetically modified (GM) chile as a concern.  In fact, they are directly linked to NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute.

The NMCA wants GM chile because they are facing serious competition from other growers.   At the moment, 18% of chile consumed is grown domestically. But last year, only 8,800 acres of chile were harvested, down from 34,500 acres in 1992. Now China is trying to corner the world chile market. The NMCA won’t have to wait long for the GM chile. NMSU is already handing out GM chile seeds. GM chile should be on the market in about one year.

GM seeds are patented, which means that the company selling the seeds has the exclusive rights to sell them. Because of the patent, a farmer or anyone found unknowingly growing a GM crop can be sued. Which brings me to HB 46, the Farmers Protection bill, one of the most progressive and important bills this past session. If it passed, it would have protected farmers against lawsuits from biotech companies that produce GM seeds.

Not only that, but the bill would’ve defined our sovereign right to grow food as farmers: even if we are growing a single plant. It seems that biotech firms will stop at nothing until every seed planted is theirs. In fact, this past UNM day at the legislature, I lobbied both my representatives, Senator Eric Griego and Rep. Kiki Saavedra to support local farmers and to vote for HB 46. Here’s the link for all you chile enthusiast out there. Let’s make sure we win next year and lobby hard!


Dawn of Nations Today Volumn 6; Issue 1; May 2011, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.

Dawn of Nations Today is a special edition published by the Native American Studies Department, University College, University of New Mexico
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