SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Some of the Democratic presidential candidates said they support rescinding the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. soldiers for the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.
Marcella LeBeau, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, asked candidates for their thoughts on rescinding the Medals of Honor during the second day of the Frank LeMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City on Tuesday.
“Back home on the Cheyenne River Reservation, I believe there is a pervasive sadness that exists there because of unresolved grief,” LeBeau told the candidates.
LeBeau is part of the group asking Congress to pass 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. The Remove the Stain Act has remained in the U.S. House Armed Services Committee without action since it was introduced in June. It has a dozen cosponsors, although South Dakota’s congressional delegation hasn’t signed on to it.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont hung his head down as LeBeau described the impact Wounded Knee has had on Native Americans in South Dakota. He received loud applause when he immediately answered that the medals should “absolutely” be rescinded. The time is overdue for people to have the discussion about the “terrible and horrible things” that were done to Native Americans when Europeans arrived in the United States, although it won’t be easy because there’s a lot of pain, he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would do everything in his power as president to rescind the medals and “finally make history move in the right direction.” The country needs to acknowledge Wounded Knee and say that it no longer has those values, he said. The Wounded Knee Massacre didn’t have anything to do with honor, he said.
“It is absolutely unacceptable, not only that that massacre occurred, but then it somehow was celebrated by our military by giving the Medal of Honor to so many of the soldiers involved in something that, today, would be a war crime,” de Blasio said.
California’s U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said she supports the Remove the Stain Act. History needs to reflect the fact that is was a massacre, and she supports acknowledging the wrongs that populations have experienced in the country’s past, she said.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said rescinding the medals is the right thing to do because Wounded Knee is a “shameful part of this country’s history.”
Independent presidential candidate Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, said he would “absolutely” rescind the medals. Like many moments in American history, most of the country doesn’t know the history of what took place at Wounded Knee. Three of the medals were given to soldiers because they flushed the Lakota people out of the ravine during the massacre, he said. In addition to rescinding the medals, the country needs to understand why it celebrates massacres such as Wounded Knee.
“(The medals) have no place in a nation that claims to value freedom and equality and diversity and pluralism. These medals are not only a stain, they are blood dripping from the clothes of this nation,” Charles said.
Candidates on the first day of the forum, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, weren’t asked about the Wounded Knee medals.