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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Reps. Heck, Haaland, and Cook Introduce the 'Remove the Stain' Act

Jun 27, 2019
Press Release
“I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee.” – Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles, 1891

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Denny Heck (WA-10), Paul Cook (CA-08), and Deb Haaland (NM-01) introduced H.R. 3467, the Remove The Stain Act, on Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill rescinds 20 Medals of Honor that were awarded after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 to members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry for acts during the massacre.

Reps. Heck, Cook, and Haaland joined descendants of survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre at a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the bill’s introduction.

“It bothers me as a professional military person and as a historian and as a humanitarian,” said Congressman Cook, a 26-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran, “not just the massacre and slaughter and all the horrible things that happened – but the continuation of a lie that is associated with the highest award we have for valor.”

Congresswoman Haaland, one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, said, “The introduction of this bill today shows the continued work and strength of the Native American people who have fought for more than a century for the United States to acknowledge the genocide of our people that has taken place on this soil.”

“The Medal of Honor is the highest award that can be presented to a member of the U.S. military for their service,” said Congressman Heck. “The slaughter of innocents is not an act of valor, and we must remove the stain of the Wounded Knee Massacre from the Medal of Honor’s prized legacy. We’re 129 years late, but we still can act.”

“On our reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Reservation, there is a sadness that exists there because of unresolved grief,” said Marcella LaBeau, a 99-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II and recipient of the French Legion of Honor for her role in liberating France from Nazi control. “There has to be healing, and that’s why we’re here today, to ask that these Medals of Honor be revoked.”

“We have descendants who have been trying to accomplish this from generation to generation to generation,” said Oliver “OJ” Semans, a U.S. Navy veteran, member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and Co-Executive Director of Four Directions, a Native American rights organization working with the descendants of the massacre. Referring to Marcella LaBeau, he said, “She has been fighting for this as a veteran the majority of her life.”

Phyllis Hollow Horn, whose great-grandparents survived the massacre and whose great-grandmother was seven months pregnant at the time, asked Congress, “to rescind the 20 Medals of Honor given to the 7th Cavalry, and thus to begin a step toward healing an historical trauma, and also to begin the spirit of reconciliation.”

“Our relatives were shot at very close range,” said Manny Iron Hawk, whose grandmother hid in a ravine when she was twelve years old, to hide from the soldiers who were pursuing her at Wounded Knee. “They were so close that you could see the powder burn marks on the children and on the women. There was no honor in these murders, and the Lakota live with these traumas to this day. Our lives are reminders of our courage, strength, and the will to survive in the 21st century. In the healing road that we have to all take, we are all human beings, and we need to work together.”

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BACKGROUND
The Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on the morning of December 29, 1890, when the U.S. 7th Cavalry opened fire on hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children, almost all of whom were unarmed. In addition to their standard issue rifles, the 7th Cavalry had four mounted Hotchkiss guns, capable of firing 37mm rounds 43 times per minute. According to accounts of the massacre, most of the 25 U.S. soldiers who were killed were victims of friendly fire. Hundreds of Lakota people were killed. Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded for the Wounded Knee Massacre.

The Remove the Stain Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 25, 2019, the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Before introduction, Reps. Sharice Davids (KS-03), Daniel Kildee (MI-05), and Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03) joined as original co-sponsors of the bill.