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3 US representatives back measure to rescind medals for US soldiers in Battle of Wounded Knee

The U.S. Congress during a State of the Union address. (The White House/Released)

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, [of New Mexico, D-Albuquerque], joined two other members of Congress on Tuesday in calling for federal legislation that would rescind Medals of Honor awarded to those who fought at the 1890 Battle of Wounded Knee, the most infamous massacre of American Indians by the U.S. Army.

Haaland and her co-sponsors hope to make their “Remove the Stain Act” part of the next National Defense Authorization Act.

Haaland, who followed several Sioux speakers at a news conference, became emotional when she spoke about the proposal.

“I believe the introduction of this bill today shows the continued work and strength of the Native American people who have fought for over a century for the United States to acknowledge the genocide of our people that has taken place on this soil,” she said.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to help serve the most underrepresented group of people in history to raise the visibility of Native American people, our culture and our heritage because we have remained strong through massacres like this one that we are addressing today,” Haaland added.

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She said the bill is a “marker” that shows “our country is finally on its way to acknowledging and recognizing the atrocities committed against our Native communities.”

She also noted that Tuesday was the the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn, which she called “a day of victory for the Lakota people” who defeated Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

The bill’s other sponsors are Rep. Paul Cook, R-California, and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington.

A news release from Heck’s office said, “Even by the standards of the time, the actions taken by U.S. Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890 shock the conscience. … The Medal of Honor holds a sacred place in our national ethos. It is the highest decoration that can be awarded to a U.S. military service member, and it should not be used to legitimize the massacre of innocent civilians.”

According to the website of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, 18 men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at Wounded Knee, and a total of 421 Medals of Honor went to those who fought the “Indian War Campaigns” between 1868 and 1890.

Presidents have awarded more than 3,400 Medals of Honor since the award was created in 1861.

Most of the reasons listed for the Wounded Knee medals are vague, citing such qualities as “distinguished gallantry,” “conspicuous and gallant conduct in battle,” and “bravery in action.”

Listings for other medal recipients give more details. For instance, John E. Clancy, whose rank is listed as “musician” with Company E, 1st U.S. Artillery, was said to have “twice voluntarily rescued wounded comrades under fire of the enemy.”

Sgt. Jacob Trautman’s medal was for killing “a hostile Indian at close quarters, and, although entitled to retirement from service, remained to the close of the campaign.”

Private Joshija Hartzog “went to the rescue of the commanding officer who had fallen severely wounded, picked him up, and carried him out of range of the hostile guns,” the website says.

Fourteen of the medals were awarded in 1891, the year after the massacre. The last medal for Wounded Knee was awarded in 1895 to Lt. John Gresham. According to the website, he “voluntarily led a party into a ravine to dislodge Sioux Indians concealed therein. He was wounded during this action.”

The Associated Press reported that the Remove the Stain Act is being pushed by O.J. Semans, co-founder of Four Directions, a Native American voting rights organization.

Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota, began advocating for the legislation early this year after President Donald Trump tweeted one of his many comments mocking Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry.

“They didn’t award any medals at My Lai,” said Bret Healy, a Four Directions consultant and strategist.

The 1968 My Lai Massacre took place during the Vietnam War as U.S. Army soldiers hunting for Viet Cong fighters and sympathizers killed unarmed villagers. Estimates of the My Lai death toll vary from 347 to 504, the wire service said.

Native American groups have called for years for the Medals of Honor to be rescinded from the soldiers involved in the Wounded Knee massacre.

Heck’s news release said the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in 2001 passed a resolution calling for those medals to be revoked and that the National Congress of American Indians also has requested the government rescind the medals.

In 1996, the late GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, received a petition to revoke the medals but, according to the Associated Press, said in a letter that retroactive judgment of the massacre did not warrant the action.

In 1990, Congress apologized to the descendants of those killed at Wounded Knee.

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© 2019 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.