Reps. Denny Heck, Washington Democrat; Deb Haaland, New Mexico Democrat; and Paul Cook, California Republican, introduced the Remove the Stain bill Tuesday.
“It bothers me as a professional military person and as a historian … 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,” said Mr. Cook, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War.
Ms. Haaland, herself an American Indian, said the trauma and pain of Wounded Knee runs deep among tribal members, as tales of the massacre are passed down to succeeding generations.
The legislation, she said, is “a marker and shows that our country is finally on its way to recognizing the atrocities committed against our native communities.”
America’s highest recognition for valor in combat, the Medal of Honor was initiated in 1861, and is presented by the president in the name of Congress. More than 3,000 medals have been awarded in nearly 170 years.
During the end of the Indian Wars in 1890, the U.S. 7th Cavalry was confiscating firearms from Chief Big Foot’s band on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, when a gunshot sounded. Soldiers, armed with mounted artillery, opened fire on the tribe — many of the women and children — killing hundreds. More than 30 soldiers died in the 20-minute skirmish.
The legislation would rescind the 20 Medals of Honor that were awarded.
Calling Wounded Knee a “tragic chapter” in the nation’s history, Rep. Dusty Johnson, South Dakota Republican, stopped short of supporting 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,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that Medal of Honor recipients today are held to a “tremendously higher standard.”
Descendants of Lakota Sioux who were slaughtered at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, expressed support Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol for the Remove the Stain bill. They made the trip from the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River reservations in western South Dakota.
In 2001, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe passed a unanimous resolution to rescind the medals. The National Congress of American Indians also has said the Wounded Knee medals tarnish the award’s image.
In 1990, on Wounded Knee’s centenary, Congress formally apologized for the massacre, which came as the U.S. government — in breaking the 1868 Treaty of Laramie — sought to annex the Great Sioux Reservation.
In 1996, Sen. John McCain criticized the governmental policies leading up to Wounded Knee as “unjust, unwise, or worse” but declined support for rescinding the medals.
“[A] retrospective judgment that the government’s policies and actions were dishonorable does not warrant rescinding the medals awarded to individual soldiers for bravery in a brief, fierce fight,” McCain wrote.
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