On September 23, 2021, the House of Representatives passed its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with wide bipartisan support. The House included by voice vote a provision based on the Remove the Stain Act, legislation introduced by United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Congressman Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawai’i). The bill would revoke the Medal of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre on December 29, 1890, when U.S. soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Lakota men, women, and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration, was given to twenty soldiers in the regiment for their actions at Wounded Knee.
Recently, Senators Warren and Merkley and Congressman Kahele, along with 14 lawmakers, sent a letter urging President Joseph R. Biden to use his executive authority to immediately rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee Massacre.
“As you finalize the NDAA this year, we call on you to ensure these provisions are included in the final legislation. The Wounded Knee Massacre was over 130 years ago, and yet the actions of the U.S. Army and the Medals of Honor bestowed to the perpetrators remain a persistent stain on the nation. We call on you to take action and revoke these undue honors,” wrote the lawmakers.
Marcella LeBeau, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who served as an Army nurse in Europe during the Allied invasion of Normandy, was a lifelong advocate for the removal of the Medals of Honor from the perpetrators of Wounded Knee and a promoter of the Remove the Stain Act.
She wrote in her letter to congressional leaders, “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.”
Marcella continued her letter with a sentiment she often expressed about her home. “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 about how the pervasive sadness appears among her people, Marcella explained, “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.”