November 27, 2019

Senators Warren and Merkley Announce Senate Companion to Remove the Stain Act

Legislation would revoke Medal of Honor from soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at the Wounded Knee massacre

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announced that they will introduce the Senate companion to the Remove the Stain Act. First introduced in the House by Representatives Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and Paul Cook (R-Calif.), 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 Lakota men, women, and children—most of them unarmed—on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Twenty soldiers in the regiment received the Medal of Honor—the highest military decoration—for their actions at Wounded Knee. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are original cosponsors of the bill.
As the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of Congress for “gallantry beyond the call of duty.” The soldiers’ acts of violence at Wounded Knee were not heroic, but rather tragic and profoundly shameful. The 101st Congress (1989–1990) adopted a concurrent resolution acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the massacre and “expresse[d] its deep regret on behalf of the United States” for the “terrible tragedy.”
“The horrifying acts of violence against hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee should be condemned, not celebrated with Medals of Honor,” said Senator Warren. “The Remove the Stain Act acknowledges a profoundly shameful event in U.S. history, and that’s why I’m joining my House colleagues in this effort to advance justice and take a step toward righting wrongs against Native peoples.”
“We have a responsibility to tell the true story of the horrific Wounded Knee Massacre,” said Senator Merkley. “We cannot whitewash or minimize the dark chapters of our history, but instead must remember, reflect on, and work to rectify them.  The massacre of innocents could not be farther from heroism, and I hope this bill helps set the record straight."
“History must reflect that Wounded Knee was a massacre of hundreds of defenseless Native men, women, and children at the hands of U.S. soldiers,” said Senator Harris. “We will never be able to remove the pain and trauma caused by these acts of violence, but we can continue to fight for justice. Revoking these Medals of Honor is one step forward and I am proud to join my colleagues to address our country’s wrongs.”
“While we can’t change history, we can change who we as a nation recognize as heroes,” Senator Wyden said. “The soldiers who attacked and killed indigenous peoples at Wounded Knee were no heroes, and they did not deserve to be awarded Medals of Honor. Revoking these medals is the least Congress can do to recognize the irreparable harm that the U.S. government caused to indigenous peoples.”
“Wounded Knee is part of our history, and nothing we do today can adequately make amends for the merciless slaughter that occurred there,” said Senator Patrick Leahy. “But rescinding the Medals of Honor, which were awarded for conduct that was the antithesis of honorable, is a small step and one that I’m proud to be part of.” 
In June 2019, Representatives Heck, Haaland, and Cook introduced the bipartisan Remove the Stain Act as H.R. 3467.
“The Medal of Honor is the highest award our nation can bestow upon its servicemembers for acts of valor. There was no valor in the killing of unarmed Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, and the Medals of Honor given for the massacre must be rescinded,” said Representative Heck. “This bill would remove the stain of Wounded Knee from the Medal of Honor’s storied legacy, and it would promote healing built on an acknowledgement of the past. I thank Senator Warren and Senator Merkley for introducing the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate, and for working with us to pass this crucial legislation.”
“The Remove the Stain Act is about more than just rescinding Medals of Honor from soldiers who served in the U.S. 7th Cavalry and massacred unarmed Lakota women and children – it’s also about making people aware of this country’s history of genocide of American Indians. Senator Elizabeth Warren understands this, and I’m pleased we’ll be able to have these conversations and move bills forward in both chambers,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland.

The Remove the Stain Act has earned the support of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the National Congress of American Indians, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, the Coalition of Large Tribes, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890, the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Descendants Society, Four Directions, the Native Organizers Alliance, VoteVets, Common Defense, Veterans for Peace, Veterans for American Ideals, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
“Native people serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group in the United States, and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley’s introduction of the Remove the Stain Act not only shows respect to these brave Native men and women who in some cases gave the ultimate sacrifice for this Nation with their lives, it also brings justice and healing to the Wounded Knee Descendants,” said Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
“As President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and on behalf of the people of the Oglala band of Lakota, I want to thank Senator Warren and Senator Merkley for bringing the Remove the Stain Act to the Senate. Our Lakota people have suffered a tremendous loss of hundreds of our relatives at the Wounded Knee Massacre and although Congress apologized for this atrocity in 1990, an apology is meaningless without justice and Senators Warren and Merkley’s bill provides some justice to our people,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner.

"It is with a heavy heart caused by thoughts of the Wounded Knee Massacre that I thank you for introducing an Act that would serve as an honorable gesture towards formally acknowledging a historical wrong and fostering healing. After 129 years, the massacre is still a subject of sorrow for the Lakota, and I believe is an embarrassment to the United States,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux. “This Act is a symbol of continued reconciliation efforts and what the United States continually aspires to be.” Read the full letter of support here.
“We urge prompt enactment of [the Remove the Stain Act] by the House and Senate as an important step in beginning to correct our Country’s past wrong doings and in charting a new path forward based on mutual understanding and respect,” wrote Tribal Chairman Charles R. Vig of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “It is shameful to honor soldiers for massacring defenseless men, women and children. Moreover, it disrespects the entire Native American community who send more men and women to serve in the military at higher rates than any other ethnic group. These twenty Medals of Honor must be rescinded.” Read the full letter of support here. 
"For more than two decades, NCAI and its membership have called upon Congress to revoke the Medals of Honor awarded for participation in the Wounded Knee Massacre," said Kevin J. Allis, Chief Executive Officer of the National Congress of American Indians. "This act is long overdue, and we are glad to see legislation introduced in both chambers that would condemn the heinous acts committed at Wounded Knee by revoking these medals."

“As the Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, it is with great honor on behalf of the Tribal leaders in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota to acknowledge our support for Senator Warren and Senator Merkley’s introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate,” said Chairman Harold Frazier of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association.
“The Coalition of Large Tribes recognizes the importance of Senator Warren and Merkley’s introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate and supports their efforts in being a voice for justice that has been denied for 130 years,” said Chairman Mark Fox of the Coalition of Large Tribes.
United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF) adopted a resolution stating, “the USET SPF Board of Directors strongly supports the Remove the Stain Act and calls upon Congress to pass this legislation that would annul and void the twenty Congressional Medals of Honor given to members of the United States Seventh Calvary who committed incomprehensible atrocities upon un-armed Lakota men, women, children, and elderly at Wounded Knee.” See the full resolution here.
“The descendants of our relatives who were massacred at Wounded Knee are deeply touched and grateful to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for introducing the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate,” said Manny C. Iron Hawk of the Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890, an organization consisting of descendants of the Wounded Knee Massacre. “Their courageous efforts in righting a wrong are encouraging with moving into the future. Their actions show that the U.S. Senate is moving toward acting in a more reconciliatory way.”
“I am a direct lineal descendant of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre.  I want to express my deepest appreciation to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for their work in the Senate regarding the Remove the Stain Act.  May our relatives rest in peace,” said Phyllis Hollow Horn, Chairwoman of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Descendants Society.
“Four Directions Inc. gives its heartfelt gratitude to United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for the introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the United States Senate. It took 100 years for the United States government to admit it was a massacre and apologize, let’s not watch another 100 years or 7 generations pass by to deliver the justice our ancestors deserve,” said OJ Semans, Co-Executive Director of Four Directions.
“As peoples and nations, it is impossible to know where we can go together unless we understand the past and its effect on the present. We are thankful for Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Jeff Merkley’s support for correcting the interpretation of history, which acknowledges the violations of human rights of the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre and their families,” said Judith LeBlanc, Director of the Native Organizers Alliance. “The introduction of the Remove the Stain Act is also a step to changing the narrative of U.S. history from one of denial and erasure to one that can build a future of equity and tribal sovereignty.”
“Rescinding these Medals of Honor – awarded for actions that embody dishonor – is essential to maintaining the distinction of our nation’s highest military award.  Those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of valor in the course of their military service should not be in the same company as the twenty individuals awarded for participation in the Wounded Knee Massacre.  It’s long past time for Congress to act and rescind those Medals,” said Will Goodwin, VoteVets Director of Government Relations. Read the full letter of support here.
“Congress should recognize this massacre for what it was, a mistake, and not glorify it with the 20 Medals of Honor that were subsequently awarded. We strongly condemn the violence used against the Sioux people, and believe these medals from Wounded Knee tarnish the Medal of Honor. Congress should act to remove the stain,” wrote Garett Reppenhagen, Executive Director at Veterans for Peace. Read the full letter of support here
“Recipients of this award are among the greatest heroes of our history, and so it is tragic that past recipients have included U.S. soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. It is critical that Congress act to rescind these specific awards, because there should be no medals for massacres,” wrote Alexander McCoy, Political Director of Common Defense. “For us, this bill is not only about correcting the historical record, it is about recognizing the service of countless veterans alive today, taking an important step towards healing for the Lakota descendants, and protecting the integrity of every subsequently awarded Medal of Honor.” Read the full letter of support here.
“Native Americans serve in the United States armed forces at a higher rate per capita than any ethnic group in the country. To award the soldiers who committed these atrocities at Wounded Knee the highest possible award in the United States military is wrong, and an insult to our Native veterans.  It is imperative that Congress vote to revoke these medals,” wrote Kerri Colfer, Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Read the full letter of support here.
The National Congress of American Indians and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have both passed resolutions calling for the revocation of the medals.
November is Native American Heritage Month, as recognized in a resolution that Senator Warren cosponsored and the Senate passed. During this month and throughout her time in the Senate, Senator Warren has worked to protect and advance tribal sovereignty, to emphasize the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations, and to affirm Washington’s government-to-government relationship with tribal nations:
  • She is working with Congresswoman Haaland, one of the first Native women elected to Congress, on the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act, legislation that will address chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty in Indian Country and hold the federal government accountable for honoring America’s legal promises to Native peoples.
  • She has supported efforts to address violence in Indian Country, especially against women and girls. When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was last reauthorized in 2013, she joined the call to ensure the law contained new safeguards for Native abuse victims. She cosponsored that reauthorization, which recognized tribal sovereignty in crucial new ways. However, VAWA expired earlier this year, and Senator Warren is a cosponsor and strong supporter of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) bill to reauthorize VAWA through 2024. This bill—the Senate companion to legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives—contains important and robust tribal provisions. 
  • She has also been a leader in calling for better data and reporting to help address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, including in urban areas.
  • Senator Warren twice introduced a bipartisan bill to give tribal nations a seat at the table in addressing the elevated suicide rates in their communities.
  • Senator Warren worked with Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and introduced the American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, legislation that would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to help provide tribal nations with resources to combat child abuse and neglect.
  • The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, her major legislation with then-Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the late Elijah Cummings, to address the nationwide crisis of opioid addiction and substance use disorders, has robust tribal provisions that would provide funding and resources directly to tribal nations and tribal organizations and mandate tribal consultation.
  • Senator Warren worked with Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to ensure that their bipartisan cannabis legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.
  • Senator Warren’s major housing legislation, the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, would provide a significant increase in funding for Indian Housing Block Grants and restore the ability of tribal housing authorities to administer Housing Choice Vouchers. The National American Indian Housing Council passed a resolution supporting the bill.
  • Senator Warren cosponsored Senator Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act (IPAAA), to protect essential federal and tribal programs from the detrimental impacts of budgetary uncertainty caused by government shutdowns and short-term funding packages. She has also cosponsored legislation led by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to provide advance appropriations for Indian Health Service programs.
  • She has twice partnered with Senator Udall to introduce the Native American Voting Rights Act, landmark legislation to provide the necessary resources and oversight to ensure Native people have equal access to the electoral process.
  • Senator Warren’s Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, introduced with Congresswoman Haaland, would provide millions of families in Indian Country with free, high-quality child care and early learning options. The legislation allows tribal governments to be local administrators of the universal child care and pre-K program.