There’s some recent head-scratching news out of Washington, D.C., (and it has nothing to do with President Trump’s pending impeachment).
Last June, a push to rescind the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. soldiers for the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre began in Congress.
The "Remove the Stain Act" to rescind the medals for Wounded Knee, in which nearly 300 Native Americans were killed by the U.S. Army on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1890, was introduced back then by U.S. Reps. Denny Heck, D-Wash., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Paul Cook, R-Calif. Native American descendants of Wounded Knee from South Dakota honored Heck and Cook with blankets and Haaland with a feather in an emotional press conference announcing the bill in Washington, D.C. on June 25.
The legislation is a healing road that everyone needs to take, said Cheyenne River tribal member Manny Iron Hawk, whose grandmother survived Wounded Knee.
As the months have gone by, the legislation has gained momentum. Late last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said they will introduce the Senate companion to the Remove the Stain Act. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are original co-sponsors of the bill. Harris, Sanders and Warren at the time, were 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. Harris has since ended her presidential campaign.
Guess who doesn’t support the Remove the Stain Act? Sen. Mike Rounds. Like I said, it’s a real head-scratcher.
Anti-Indian anger rose in the late 1880s as the Ghost Dance spiritual movement emerged, spreading to two dozen tribes across 16 states, and threatening efforts to culturally assimilate tribal peoples, according to History.com. Ghost Dance, which taught that Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs, called for a rejection of the white man’s ways. In December 1890, several weeks after the famed Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed while being arrested, the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry massacred 150 to 200 ghost dancers at Wounded Knee.
When a deaf Miniconjou named Black Coyote refused to give up his gun, the weapon accidentally went off, and the fraught situation turned violent as the 7th Cavalry opened fire. Because many of the Miniconjou had already given up their weapons, they were left defenseless. Scores of Miniconjou were shot and killed in the first few moments, among them Big Foot. Some women and children attempted to flee the scene and sought protection in a nearby ravine, but the Hotchkiss guns fired on their position at a rate of 50 2-pound (0.9-kg) shells per minute. The Miniconjou who were able to make it a little farther were cut down by the mounted soldiers. The 7th Cavalry did not discriminate.
For their mass murder of disarmed Lakota, President Benjamin Harrison awarded about 20 soldiers the Medal of Honor.
In a Nov. 21 Sioux Falls Argus Leader article, Rounds said on Thursday he doesn't support rescinding the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. soldiers for the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.
He said he believes that what happened at Wounded Knee was a massacre, not a battle, and the criteria for awarding a Medal of Honor have more value now than it did then. At this point, "we're now guessing" about what the individual soldiers did, he said.
"I don't think we should, at this time, go back and decide and change the recommendations of forefathers, even if we disagree vehemently with the outcome of the incident, the massacre," he said.
Rounds should not only throw his support behind the Remove the Stain Act. He staff, all working for a state that’s the home to nine reservations and designated tribal land areas - more than any other state – should also be crafting legislation with his colleagues in the U.S. Senate that recognizes all of the other times that white men thought nothing of slaughtering members of indigenous population. Here are few examples, cited in the History.com article ‘When Native Americans Were Slaughtered in the Name of Civilization’:
The Gnadenhutten Massacre
In 1782, a group of militiamen from Pennsylvania killed 96 Christianized Delaware Indians, illustrating the growing contempt for native people. Captain David Williamson ordered the converted Delawares, who had been blamed for attacks on white settlements, to go to the cooper shop two at a time, where militiamen beat them to death with wooden mallets and hatchets.
Battle of Tippecanoe
In the early 1800s, the rise of the charismatic Shawnee war leader, Tecumseh, and his brother, known as the Prophet, convinced Indians of various tribes that it was in their interest to stop tribal in-fighting and band together to protect their mutual interests. The decision by Indiana Territorial Governor (and later President) William Henry Harrison in 1811 to attack and burn Prophetstown, the Indian capital on the Tippecanoe River, while Tecumseh was away campaigning the Choctaws for more warriors, incited the Shawnee leader to attack again. This time he persuaded the British to fight alongside his warriors against the Americans. Tecumseh’s death and defeat at the Battle of the Thames in 1813 made the Ohio frontier “safe” for settlers -- at least for a time.
The Creek War
In the South, the War of 1812 bled into the Mvskoke Creek War of 1813-1814, also known as the Red Stick War. An inter-tribal conflict among Creek Indian factions, the war also engaged U.S. militias, along with the British and Spanish, who backed the Indians to help keep Americans from encroaching on their interests. Early Creek victories inspired General Andrew Jackson to retaliate with 2,500 men, mostly Tennessee militia, in early November 1814. To avenge the Creek-led massacre at Fort Mims, Jackson and his men slaughtered 186 Creeks at Tallushatchee. “We shot them like dogs!” said Davy Crockett. In desperation, Mvskoke Creek women killed their children so they would not see the soldiers butcher them. As one woman started to kill her baby, the famed Indian fighter, Andrew Jackson, grabbed the child from the mother. Later, he delivered the Indian baby to his wife Rachel, for both of them to raise as their own.
One of the most bitterly debated issues on the floor of Congress was the Indian Removal Bill of 1830, pushed hard by then-President Andrew Jackson. Despite being assailed by many legislators as immoral, the bill finally passed in the Senate by nine votes, 29 to 17, and by an even smaller margin in the House. In Jackson’s thinking, more than three dozen eastern tribes stood in the way of what he saw as the settlers’ divinely ordained rights to clear the wilderness, build homes and grow cotton and other crops.
From 1830 to 1840, the U.S. army removed 60,000 Indians—Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee and others—from the East in exchange for new territory west of the Mississippi. Thousands died along the way of what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” And as whites pushed ever westward, the Indian-designated territory continued to shrink.
Annuities and provisions promised to Indians through government treaties were slow in being delivered, leaving Dakota Sioux people, who were restricted to reservation lands on the Minnesota frontier, starving and desperate. After a raid of nearby white farms for food turned into a deadly encounter, Dakotas continued raiding, leading to the Little Crow War of 1862, in which 490 settlers, mostly women and children, were killed. President Lincoln sent soldiers, who defeated the Dakota; and after a series of mass trials, more than 300 Dakota men were sentenced to death. While Lincoln commuted most of the sentences, on the day after Christmas at Mankato, military officials hung 38 Dakotas at once -- the largest mass execution in American history.
The Sand Creek Massacre
Indians fighting back to defend their people and protect their homelands provided ample justification for American forces to kill any Indians on the frontier, even peaceful ones. On November 29, 1864, a former Methodist minister, John Chivington, led a surprise attack on peaceful Cheyennes and Arapahos on their reservation at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. His force consisted of 700 men, mainly volunteers in the First and Third Colorado Regiments. That fateful cold morning, Chivington led his men against 200 Cheyennes and Arapahos. Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle had tied an American flag to his lodge pole as he was instructed, to indicate his village was at peace. When Chivington ordered the attack, Black Kettle tied a white flag beneath the American flag, calling to his people that the soldiers would not kill them. As many as 160 were massacred, mostly women and children.
At this time, a war hero from the Civil War emerged in the West. George Armstrong Custer rode in front of his mostly Irish Seventh Cavalry to the Irish drinking tune, “Gary Owen.” Custer wanted fame, and killing Indians -- especially peaceful ones who weren’t expecting to be attacked -- represented opportunity.
On orders from General Philip Sheridan, Custer and his Seventh attacked the Cheyennes and their Arapaho allies on the western frontier of Indian Territory on Nov. 29, 1868, near the Washita River. After slaughtering 103 warriors, plus women and children, Custer dispatched to Sheridan that “a great victory was won,” and described, “One, the Indians were asleep. Two, the women and children offered little resistance. Three, the Indians are bewildered by our change of policy.”
You get the idea. There’s nothing honorable in the way men and women like me – white in color – have treated Native Americans during our nation’s history. If you hunt around on Google, you’ll find at least one photo of the way the Native American women, men and children who died at Wounded Knee were buried. They were unceremoniously dumped into a trench.
Rounds said he talked with living recipients of Medals of Honor while making his decision. One can only assume when reading that statement – and boy, do I hope I’m wrong – that Rounds and others, specifically family members of Medal of Honor winners, believe that stripping the medals from men who slaughtered helpless men, women and children will somehow damage the significance of the medals.
There’s no honor in being part of a massacre. It’s time for Rounds, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson to throw their support behind the Remove The Stain Act.