The U.S. 7th Cavalry massacred hundreds of unarmed Lakota men, women and children on the morning of December 29, 1890. It would become known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Twenty men who took part in the atrocities against the Lakota people were ultimately awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration.
Although not present at the time of the massacre, Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles did not mince words when describing what he had heard of that day. “I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee,” Miles wrote in 1891.
In late June, Congressman Denny Heck, D-Washington, introduced the Remove the Stain Act, a bill that would rescind the 20 Medals of Honor that were awarded to members of the 7th Cavalry.
It’s unlikely to physically have the medals returned but the names of the soldiers will be removed from the Medal of Honor rolls if it is passed and signed into law.
Heck said it is not too late to right this wrong -- even if it is nearly 130 years later.
“The Medal of Honor is the highest award that can be presented to a member of the U.S. military for their service,” Heck said in a press release. “The slaughter of innocents is not an act of valor, and we must remove the stain of the Wounded Knee Massacre from the Medal of Honor’s prized legacy. We’re 129 years late, but we still can act.”
Along with Heck, the bill was originally co-sponsored by five Reps. Paul Cook, R-California, Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Daniel Kildee, D-Michigan and Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico.
Next week at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum participating candidates will be asked to share their views on the “Remove the Stain Act” by Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II.
At the bill’s introduction, LeBeau said there is a sadness that exists on the Cheyenne River Reservation due to unresolved grief from Wounded Knee.
“There has to be healing, and that’s why we’re here today, to ask that these Medals of Honor be revoked,” she said at the time.
OJ Semans, co-executive direction of Four Directions, helped initiate discussions on the legislation by writing letters to the House and Senate Armed Services committees after President Donald Trump tweeted that Sen. Elizabeth Warren should have done a commercial in “full Indian garb.”
Semans said that the “Remove the Stain Act” is not a Native issue or a South Dakota issue, but an issue that should concern all Americans. Along with the bill, part of the symbolic response to President Trump’s tweet was having the bill introduced on June 25, the anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“It was so powerful,” Semans said, who stood with descendants of survivors of the massacre at the introductory press conference.
The forum will provide Democratic presidential candidates a unique opportunity to talk directly to the often overlooked voting bloc that is Indian Country. Moderated by Mark Trahant, the editor of Indian Country Today, each candidate will respond to questions from a panel consisting of a male and female tribal leader, tribal members, Native American youth and the aforementioned Marcella LeBeau.
Organizers of the forum say invitations were extended to all candidates and President Donald Trump, entrepreneur Andrew Yang turned down the invitation to take part, whereas Sen. Cory Booker and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said they could not attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Stay tuned to Indian Country Today this week in the leadup to the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum as we preview topics and issues that will be discussed in Sioux City.
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org