Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Rescind Wounded Knee Medals of Honor

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A group of bipartisan lawmakers have introduced a bill that aims to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to 20 soldiers for their actions at the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.

Representatives Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Denny Heck (D-Wash.), and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) introduced the Remove the Stain Act. The bill proposes to formally rescind the Medals of Honor awarded after the massacre at Wounded Knee of an estimated 250 Native Americans, including women and children, by the 7th Cavalry troops on December 29, 1890.

“I believe the introduction of this bill today shows the continued work and strength of the Native American people who have fought for over a century for the United States to acknowledge the genocide of our people that has taken place on this soil,” Haaland, who became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, said during a news conference on June 25. Haaland is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna Tribe.

The news conference was held on the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In the battle, the Lakota and other Native American tribes defeated the 7th Cavalry 14 years before the Wounded Knee Massacre.

“We’re 129 years late, but we still can act,” Heck said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Washington Democrat added, “We are here today because we think that the descendants of those who were present and all associated deserve some healing and deserve this recognition that what happened then was not right.”

Different groups have tried at least twice before to have the Medals of Honor rescinded. In 2001, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe passed a unanimous resolution requesting that the medals be rescinded. The National Congress of American Indians, who said the Medals of Honor given to those soldiers represent a “deeply painful history of mistreatment,” also asked the US government to rescind the medals.

In 1990, Congress apologized for the massacre but the medals awarded were not addressed.

Representative Cook, a decorated Marine veteran and the only Republican sponsoring the bill, said that the issue concerns him “as a professional military person and as a historian.” He continued, “With not only the massacre and the slaughter and with everything that happened to a group of people, but basically to perpetuate a lie that is associated with the highest award we have for valor.”

Several descendants of the Native Americans murdered at Wounded Knee, traveled from the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Cheyenne River reservations in South Dakota to express their support in Washington, DC.

Marcella LeBeau is a 99-year-old member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who served as an Army nurse during World War II, Stars and Stripes reported. LeBeau said that on her reservation there is a “pervasive sadness that exists there because of unresolved grief.” She told reporters she was in the US Capitol to ask that the 20 Medals of Honor be rescinded.

Manny Iron Hawk, a fellow Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, said that his grandmother was 12 years old when she survived the massacre. He is the chairman of the Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890 and said his grandmother and the others attacked had powder burn marks on them from how close the soldiers fired upon them.

“So, there was no honor in these murders. And the Lakota, we live with these traumas to this day,” he said, according to Stars and Stripes. “Our lives are reminders of our courage, strength, and the will to survive in the 21st century.”

Representative Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) called the Wounded Knee Massacre a “tragic chapter” in American history but did not support the bill. “The Army has reviewed these medals in the past, and I’ve been in conversations to determine whether another review may be warranted,” Johnson said. He noted that Medal of Honor recipients are now held to a “tremendously higher standard.” 

The Medal of Honor was launched as the highest recognition for valor in combat in 1861. The medal, which is given by the president in the name of Congress, has been awarded more than 3,000 times, according to The Washington Times.

 


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.

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