The descendants of the Buffalo Soldiers exemplify the leadership and humility it takes to accept the historical role that their ancestors played in the Wounded Knee Massacre and take action towards restorative justice so that the Lakota descendants can have collective healing.
The present – restorative justice
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. The bill seeks to revoke the Congressional Medal of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890. After that, several Buffalo Soldier associations made a decision to support the Act.
On June 25, 2021, those associations presented their proclamation to the Wounded Knee Massacre descendants in support of the Remove The Stain Act at the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
Marcella LeBeau–the granddaughter of Lakota war chief Rain-in-the-Face, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and a leading voice in support of the Remove the Stain Act–was present for the proclamation ceremony and she was accompanied by Dr. Karla Abbott and Mr. Kasey Abbott.
This historic event was the first time that descendants of ancestral enemies united to address a historical atrocity. Although white supremacy pitted their respective ancestral groups against each other, acknowledging historical facts and events as they truly occurred laid the groundwork for restorative justice which can then lead to collective healing among the Lakota people.
The past – genocidal massacre
In 1866, President Andrew Johnson signed an act of Congress to form six regiments of African-American troops–that were later referred to as Buffalo Soldiers–that consisted of recruits who were experienced soldiers that had served in the Civil War. The new recruits were eager for this opportunity believing it would lead to greater social and economic growth. The military service offered access to food, clothing, shelter, and access to education which was denied to many generations during their enslavement. They also received financial compensation that was greater than what they would have earned as civilians following the Civil War.
The Buffalo Soldiers were sent west to help capture cattle rustlers and thieves and protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the Western front. Additionally, they also fought alongside of white calvaries and regiments in battles against the Indigenous nations of the Plains, including the Wounded Knee Massacre which led to the assault and killing of more than 250 unarmed 250 men, women and children of the Lakota.
“None of us invented or created this world that we live in now, but we all have a responsibility to learn about it.” ~Leilani Sabzalian (Alutiiq)
In our last edition, the West River Eagle ran an article that described the 2021 Indigenous Peoples’ Day Curriculum Teach-In held via Zoom on Saturday, September 25, 2021.
In that meeting an educator asked Leilani Sabzalian (Alutiiq) during her workshop how she responds to the claim from some parents that white children are made to feel guilty when discussing Indigenous experiences in the classroom.
There is also concern among some parents and elected officials across the country about the feelings of white non-indigenous children when historical topics about genocidal massacres, broken treaties, segregation, and cultural erasure are discussed in classrooms.
“None of this is about guilt. It’s about responsibility. None of us invented or created this world that we live in now, but we all have a responsibility to learn about it, and then to work to make it more humanizing and [have a] just system that works for everybody,” responded Dr. Sabzalian.