November 30, 2021

Senators Warren, Merkley, and Congressman Kahele Urge Armed Services Leaders to Retain Measure to Rescind Medals of Honor Awarded to the Perpetrators of the Wounded Knee Massacre

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele (D-Hawai'i), a member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), led a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of SASC and HASC, urging them to retain a provision that would revoke the Medals of Honor awarded to the perpetrators of the Wounded Knee Massacre in the final National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA). The House-passed NDAA includes this provision.

On September 23, 2021, the House of Representatives passed its NDAA with wide bipartisan support. The House included by voice vote a provision based on the Remove the Stain Act, legislation introduced by Senators Warren and Merkley, and Congressman Kahele. 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. 

“As you finalize the NDAA this year, we call on you to ensure these provisions are included in the final legislation. The Wounded Knee Massacre was over 130 years ago, and yet the actions of the U.S. Army and the Medals of Honor bestowed to the perpetrators remain a persistent stain on the nation. We call on you to take action and revoke these undue honors,” wrote the lawmakers. 

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." 

Congress has rescinded Medals of Honor before. The Remove the Stain Act respects and honors those who lost their lives, advances justice, and takes a step toward righting a profound wrong in our nation's history.

Joining the lawmakers in this letter are Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as well as Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Dan Kildee (D-Mich.).

Earlier this year, Senators Warren and Merkley and Congressman Kahele led the reintroduction of the Remove the Stain Act (S. 1073 / H.R. 2226), legislation that would revoke the Medals of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre. The bill has received widespread support from tribal nations, direct descendants of the Wounded Knee Massacre, tribal organizations, and veterans’ associations. Recently, Senators Warren and Merkley and Congressman Kahele, along with 14 lawmakers, sent a bicameral letter urging President Joseph R. Biden to use his executive authority to immediately rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee Massacre.