(Painting of Geronimo by Andy Warhol)
"Geronimo--E KIA" was the secret code message used to inform the president that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a raid of the terrorist's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The Apache chief and warrior was the name that the government chose to designate Bin Laden--the "E" stood for "enemy"--and the "KIA" stood for "killed in action." Despite the nation's relief at the death of this famed terrorist--number one on our nation's "most wanted" list--there were those who were offended by the name used to identify Bin Laden. Language is a subtle revealer of unconscious and deep values that show that we--as a human race--still have a long ways to go in understanding and appreciating one another.
Newspapers ran stories today stating the disappointment, and for many in the Native American culture, the outrage that one of their culture's most famous historical figures and heroes name was associated with a terrorist. Not just any terrorist, but the most notorious and evil terrorist since Adolf Hitler. For Native Americans this was a slap in the face as a people and a culture. Those of us not of the Native American culture don't get it. For us it is no big deal--it is a figure of speech--no harm was meant. But it is a big deal as it reveals that deep unconscious prejudice that still exists. And, the biggest part of the hurt is that it came from the government that is lead by a minority race president.
Native Americans represent the highest per capita enlistment of any ethic group in the United States. The state of Montana has a significant population of Native Americans--approximately 6.5% of the state's population--representing seven tribes. Like the majority of American citizens, they too were relieved at the news of Bin Laden's death. Unlike the majority of American citizens, they were stung by the words that subtly devalued them.
"All men were made by the Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers."
"Each man is good in His sight. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows."
"The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it."
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." We all know that this is a lie . . . words do hurt. With words people can inflict worse wounds than any physical beating can ever inflict. With words the wounds are inflicted upon the mind and spirit of an individual and a people. Language can be a subtle, yet effective, means of devaluing another without our even knowing it. In fact, we do it all of the time. Yet those on the receiving end know it. "Oh, she's just a girl." "He's a few bricks of a full load." "The elevator doesn't quite reach the top floor." "She's blonde, she can't help it." We do it all of the time.
In the eyes of God we are all God's children. As God's children we all have a place in the family. We all receive the same love and grace. We all have value in the eyes of God--from the biggest to the smallest, richest to poorest, most to the least educated, from the palest skin to the darkest--God love us all. As a Christian I have chosen to believe the words of Jesus and try to live up to them each and every day. Those words were simple: "To love the Lord with my whole being--body, mind, and spirit--and to love my neighbor as myself." That includes the language I use to express myself about myself and others. We should love one another as God loves us.
As individuals, and as a nation, we can do better. It was a great victory for our military to find and destroy the evil that Osama Bin Laden represented, yet we still have a long ways to go. It was echoed in the words proclaiming victory: "Geronimo--E KIA!" We are one people under God--lat us live as brothers and sisters. Sitting Bull, the great chief of the Lakota Sioux said, "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children." We've got to start somewhere . . .
"And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle,
wide as day light and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree
to shelter all the children of one mother and one father."
"And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw;
for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit,
ad the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."