May 7, 2009 - Thursday
COMMENTS ON GERONIMO'S PRESENTATION
AS PRESIDENT OF THE CHIRICAHUA APACHE NDE NATION, I AM COMPELLED TO COMMENT ON THE PRESENTATION OF OUR GREAT LEADERS.
THANK YOU FOR READING THIS,
We, the undersigned representatives of the Chiricahua Apache Nation, are called by our respect for our ancestors and the obligation to seek justice to respond to the recent program, Geronimo, aired on PBS this past Monday.
The program draws upon the views and remembrances of a number of commentators to create the impression that Geronimo was an undisciplined, selfish warrior who employed tactics such as deliberate slaughter of innocents out of a lust for vengeance and a stubborn refusal to accept the civilization offered by the U.S. Army, Indian agents, and missionaries. Those who hold these views are entitled to them. Indeed, some of the methods Geronimo used to conduct a defensive war of national liberation—in particular, the killing of noncombatants in reprisal for depredations heaped upon Chiricahua women and children—run counter to Chiricahua theology and laws, as well as to universal understandings of the laws of war. Nonetheless, the program, by omitting contrary opinions of Geronimo’s character, leadership, and cause, and—worse—failing to consult with those Chiricahuas who might have offered different and more favorable conceptions of the man and his mission—has created an incomplete, and arguably misleading, characterization of a historical figure who for many Chiricahuas was, is, and shall always be a hero, albeit a human and therefore an imperfect one.
Although debate over Geronimo’s merits will likely continue in the discourse of generations to come, it is apropos to note that many members of the pantheon of American heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, were subject to harsh criticism, character assassination, historical revisionism, and worse, both before and after their deaths. If the measure of a great man or woman is that nothing ill is ever spoken about him or her, whether by contemporaries or future generations, then history is utterly bereft of great men and women.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the program is the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about the object for which Geronimo fought and the unredressed grievances that his people and his nation, the Chiricahua Apache, hold yet today. The program intimated that the dissolution of the Chiricahua Apache reservation in Southern Arizona was triggered by the death of Cochise: in fact, it was not the demise of the great leader but rather the unilateral abrogation of the agreement by the United States, motivated by the desire to avail itself of Chiricahua lands and resources, that sparked the bloody and tragic wars between the Chiricahua Apache Nation and the United States. Indeed, a fair reading of the historical record reveals that Geronimo and those brave Chiricahuas who stood with him were fighting for the very same things that peoples throughout history and all across the globe, including the Sons of Liberty in 1776, have held dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However one wishes to remember Geronimo, we must recognize that his quest was simply to live freely as a self-governing individual on ancestral land under the command only of the will of the Chiricahua people and of the Creator.
The Chiricahua Apache Nation is a sovereign nation made up of contemporary Chiricahua Apache people who carry into the future the dreams and the hopes of Geronimo. We urge the United States to take the opportunity presented by the program to reconsider its obligations to the Chiricahua Apache people and to restore into force the solemn agreements entered into by Cochise and other Chiricahua leaders. We call upon all people of conscience and good faith to work with us in peace to restore Chiricahua lands and resources to Chiricahua sovereignty and, in doing so, to honor the cause for which Geronimo lived and died. We are grateful to the authors of the program for the opportunity to discuss Geronimo—the man and his mission—and to come together to advance the cause of justice. Thank you and may the Creator bless you.
THE CHIRICAHUA APACHE NDE NATION
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