Many American Indians also say that while they are angered, they are not surprised. They say the code name is yet another insult in a long, tumultuous history with the federal government.
"We've been oppressed for so long, it just doesn't matter anymore," said Leon Curley, a Navajo and Marine veteran from Gallup, N.M. "The government does what it wants when it wants. The name-calling is going to stay around forever. But when you think about it, this is an insult."
Jeff Houser, chairman of Geronimo's Fort Sill Apache Tribe, noted in his letter to Obama that the decision behind the code name was based not in maliciousness but a continuing cultural disconnect.
"We are quite certain that the use of the name Geronimo as a code for Osama bin Laden was based on misunderstood and misconceived historical perspectives of Geronimo and his armed struggle against the United States and Mexican governments," he wrote. "However, to equate Geronimo or any other Native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our Tribe and to all Native Americans."
The White House referred questions on the matter to the Defense Department, which said no disrespect was meant.
The department wouldn't elaborate on the use of the name "Geronimo" but said code names typically were chosen randomly so that those working on a mission could communicate without divulging any information to adversaries.
The U.S. military's use of the word Geronimo dates to the early 1940s, when paratroopers in World War II starting using it as a war cry.
Some speculate that the code name was chosen because bin Laden, like Geronimo, was able to elude capture for so many years. Others say it's because the government considered both men terrorists, and some have suggested that the guerrilla-style raid on bin Laden's compound was reflective of the Apache's fighting techniques.
Louis Maynahonah, a Navy veteran and chairman of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, said he did not believe the code name was meant to be derogatory. He pointed to the paratroopers yelling "Geronimo" and the fleets of military aircraft named after Indian tribes, including the Apache helicopter.
"It's symbolic to me of the Army at the time trying to capture Geronimo," he said of the code name. "They had a heck of time because he used to slip back across the Mexican border. This bin Laden has been slipping from us for 10 years."