At least 425 military men have been awarded the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor for fighting or killing Native Americans, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
In a list titled, “Indian Wars Period,” names of the recipients are included along with their rank, the date and location of the campaign, and a brief description as to the reason the soldier was selected for the commendation.
The medal, which was introduced in 1861, is the highest award a military service member can receive for valor in action against an enemy, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society states on its website. It is generally presented by the president to the recipient at the behest of Congress.
The Army Medal of Honor. Photo courtesy the Chicago Tribune.
According to the list, more than two-dozen of the men received the commendation for their part in the Battle of the Little Big Horn (also called the Battle of the Greasy Grass) on June 25, 1876 when General George Armstrong Custer and his men were defeated by a combined force of more than 2,000 Lakota, Dakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho.
An addtitional 20 medals were awarded to soldiers of the U.S. 7th Cavalry following their participation in the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. Originally referred to as a “battle” by the U.S., the incident was later renamed "a massacre" given that the estimated 300 Lakota who were killed were mostly unarmed women and children.
According to the list, some of the soldiers involved in the massacre received the medal for “extraordinary gallantry” and “bravery in action.”
Other soldiers who participated in the massacre were afforded a more detailed description of their actions.
Sergeant William G. Austin of New York received his medal for assisting the soldiers “on the skirmish line, directing their fire” and “using every effort to dislodge the enemy.”
Photo courtesy history.army.mil
Kevin Steele, spokesperson for the Oglala Lakota Nation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, told ICTMN that, several years ago, the U.S. government promised the Oglala Tribal Council it would rescind the 20 medals associated with the Wounded Knee Massacre.
“To this day they still haven’t done it,” he said. “We figured it’s just another lie in the many thousands of lies we’ve been told.”
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But, Steele said, he is hopeful that President Barack Obama will rescind the medals before he leaves office in January 2017.
“We [look] up to him throughout Indian country,” he said. “Even in his second term [maybe] we can get some justice.”
Over the years, Native American leaders and activists have called upon the U.S. government to rescind the 20 medals awarded to the soldiers following the Wounded Knee Massacre. Film director and Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone has also said they should be repealed.
This December will mark 125 years since the Wounded Knee Massacre.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society could not be reached for comment.