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Another “Never Forget” Moment in American History

Cheyenne River women travel to DC to support Remove the Stain Act

As we honored the innocent victims and first responders on that fateful day 20 years ago on September 11, Indigenous communities in South Dakota are not forgetting a pivotal moment in history that led to intergenerational trauma that still exists today. One of many “Never Forget” moments in U.S. history is the genocidal atrocity that occurred on December 29,1890, at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation here in South Dakota.

Advocacy in DC

Legislation to revoke Congressional Medals of Honor from the perpetrators of the atrocity was recently reintroduced in the U.S. Congress back in March.

U.S. veteran, Eagle Butte resident and Cheyenne River elder (aged 102), Mrs. Marcella Rose LeBeau/Pretty Rainbow Woman (Oohenupa) had an opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to meet congressional representatives about the Remove the Stain Act. Dr. Karla Abbott, an associate professor of nursing who has been mentored by LeBeau since childhood and throughout her career, traveled with LeBeau to Washington, DC.

Abbott recalls how LeBeau engaged with congressional members when discussing the need to rescind the medals. One congressional member was initially against the resolution to rescind the medals. 

“After talking with Marcella, he understood what she was saying. Marcella questioned how could he be concerned about 23 service members and their descendants,” said Abbott when discussing LeBeau’s advocacy in March. “What about the 200 and more that were massacred and their descendants? Marcella talked about how historical trauma has really hurt our youth on the reservation.” Abbott recalls that the congressional members along with others were moved by LeBeau’s words. 

Abbott also recalled how the airline’s computer kept putting LeBeau’s birthdate in as 2019 instead of 1919, Abbott could only shake her head and laugh at the idea that this woman, who inspired her to become a nurse, is seen as a two-year-old by a computer. 

Remove the Stain legislation

When then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) introduced the Remove the Stain Act in the 116th Congress, she said the act was “about more than just rescinding Medals of Honor from soldiers who served in the US 7th Cavalry and massacred unarmed Lakota women and children [in 1890] – it’s also about making people aware of this country’s history of genocide of American Indians.” The bill seeks to revoke the Congressional Medal of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre.

On March 26, 2021 U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Congressman Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii) reintroduced the Remove the Stain Act. 

A similar bill in support of the revocation passed the South Dakota State Legislature. South Dakota Senate Resolution 701 is “In support of rescinding the Medals of Honor given to United States soldiers for the involvement and participation of the soldiers in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.”

Pervasive sadness

LeBeau wrote a letter to congressional leaders advocating for the Act, “After the killing of Sitting Bull on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, Chief Spotted Elk at Cherry Creek, South Dakota, decided that they should go to Chief Red Cloud’s Camp at Pine Ridge for refuge. They were met at Wounded Knee creek by the 7th Cavalry soldiers. Chief Spotted Elk had ordered that a white flag be flown. He was ill and suffering from pneumonia. They were unarmed by the 7th Cavalry soldiers. It was reported that the 7th Cavalry soldiers had been drinking the evening before the massacre. They set up their Hotchkiss guns and massacred innocent unarmed men, women, and children, including Chief Spotted Elk who was lying helpless suffering from pneumonia.”

LeBeau and many historians contend that that Wounded Knee Massacre was an act of retaliation for the Union defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn where LeBeau’s great-grandfather, Rain in the Face, fought victoriously in defense against Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the battle in 1876.

LeBeau continues to say in her letter, “In my opinion there is a pervasive sadness that exists on our reservation, the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. There has never been closure to the horrific unprovoked massacre at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, where unarmed men, women and children were massacred under a white flag of truce with their leader Spotted Elk who was lying there helpless suffering from pneumonia. The descendants and relatives never forget, for many years horseback riders congregate at Sitting Bull’s camp on the Sanding Rock reservation to begin their prayerful journey to Wounded Knee, to arrive on December 29th to remember the Wounded Knee massacre.”

When asked recently about how the pervasive sadness appears among her people, LeBeau explains, “Well, in my opinion, a person is not a fully functioning person if they’re involved with grief, and usually grief is resolved by a death and a burial, and that is the end of their [loved one’s] life. But with this situation, it’s different because they were murdered under a white flag of truce and their bodies were stripped of clothing and artifacts.” 

“It just wasn’t a battle, so let’s not give the highest level of honor to them,” said Abbott when discussing the fact that there was nothing honorable in the slaughter of unarmed men, women, and children. 

While there have been documentaries, memorials, and remembrance activities for the past 20 years since September 11, 2001 when terrorists struck on American soil, the Lakota will continue to Never Forget by lobbying and advocating for the Remove the Stain Act to become legislation.

President Biden has the power to rescind the medals without Congress passing the legislation. While we wait and see, let’s Never Forget.

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