My great grandfather’s name was Harry Frazier. That was not his real name. Harry Frazier was the name he took for himself in order to pass for Caucasian in an environment which was hostile toward Native Americans. He was a full blood Native American. This was a common survival strategy used by many people during his time in order to conceal their true identity. He lived in Tennessee and one day he wrote his true Native name down in a family Bible. No one in my family knows where that Bible is now, and so we do not know what his real name was. Our family believes that he was either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribe, but without knowing his original name it is nearly impossible to determine this information.
When I heard that a protest movement on Facebook had been initiated in response to the United States Government’s use of the codename Geronimo for Osama Bin Laden in their operation to capture and kill him, I was conflicted. Native Americans were asked to change their profile picture to Geronimo. Besides my great-grandfather, I have other ancestors who were also Native Americans. However, because it was unpopular to discuss and/or disclose Native American ancestry in their day, this information was either kept secret or downplayed in some manner. I cannot apply for tribal membership because I cannot prove my ancestors were Native Americans. I don’t have their original names and they were not recorded in any census or official documents. It’s the same dilemma that African Americans face when desiring to trace their genealogy because our ancestors’ names were changed from their original names to their slave master’s name. For this reason there are often branches missing in our so-called family tree.
Geronimo’s real name was Goyathlay. His ancestry was of the Apache tribe. His mother, wife, and three children were killed by soldiers in the Mexican Army. In his career as a war chief, Geronimo fought against the Mexican and United States Army and became one of the most revered leaders in Native American history. To link him with Osama bin Laden is a gross error of association. Geronimo was defending his home country from the westward invasion of the U.S. Army. Hundreds of treaties were broken on the part of the U.S. government which allowed them to illegally seize Native American homelands. This resulted in the creation of reservations where Native Americans were forced to move and live in virtual poverty. There are still Native Americans living on reservations today. The U.S. government has yet to address all of the treaties that were broken during those wars. So to identify Geronimo with Osama bin Laden, liking him to America’s worst enemy, is as President Barack Obama often times suggests, a line of thinking that is on “the wrong side of history.” No one who defends their people and homeland from an unlawful invading army should be labeled as a terrorist.
One day my great-grandfather Harry Frazier fell from a building’s fire escape. He had been drinking and the police arrested him and took him to jail. No medical attention was ever administered to him and he died as a result of his injuries while in jail. It is our family’s suspicion that the police knew he was a Native American and that was why he didn’t receive medical care. My mother told me that he once said, “It’s better to be a Black man than an Indian in this country.”
I voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election and I plan to do so again in the next. I do hope that he along with all of the tribal councils can work together to rectify this unfortunate association of names. So again my dilemma was whether or not to change my profile picture and join in on the protest. Do I have enough Native American blood running in my veins to justify my participation? Am I authentic enough? Is this my fight? When thinking of what happened to my great-grandfather, I know I have the obligation to speak up. I have done so. I will continue to do so. Maybe one day, if things don’t change, you’ll see me cruising around Facebook with the likeness of a true American Hero!