November 03, 2021

Warren, Merkley, Kahele Lead Bicameral Letter Urging Biden to Rescind Medals of Honor Awarded to Soldiers who Perpetrated Wounded Knee Massacre

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - As the United States honors National Native American Heritage Month and examines its commitment to Native American communities, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele (D-Hawai'i), 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 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 for their actions at Wounded Knee.

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. It has been over 30 years since Congress acknowledged the horror of the U.S. Army’s atrocity at Wounded Knee. 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." 

Under Army Regulations, Medals of Honor can be rescinded if additional information is presented showing an individual failed to meet the awards criteria. Medals of Honor are approved and awarded by the President of the United States, and the lawmakers believe that it is within President Biden’s authority to confer with the Secretary of Defense and the secretaries of the military departments to revoke these honors when appropriate.

“It has been over 130 years since the Wounded Knee Massacre, and yet, the actions of the U.S. Army and the bestowment of 20 Medals of Honor upon the perpetrators of the massacre remain a persistent shame on the nation. For the families and descendants of those massacred, the revocation of these 20 Medals of Honor would have a profound and lasting impact—as has the federal government’s ongoing choice to allow these wrongly bestowed honors to stand. It is well past time to remove this stain from our nation’s history, and we call on you to do so,” the lawmakers wrote

Joining Senators Warren and Merkley and Congressman Kahele are Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

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.

For years, Senator Warren has been a leading advocate for Native communities. This year, her efforts have included the following:

  • Last month, Senator Warren joined Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Representative Norma Torres (D-Calif.) in introducing legislation to replace the official holiday recognized on the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The bill (S. 2919) would also replace any mention of Columbus Day in all federal laws or regulations with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
  • In September, Senator Warren, Congresswoman Davids, and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) reintroduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907), legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. Originally introduced by Senator Warren and then-Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) last Congress, the bill would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's Indian Boarding School Policies.
  • Also in September, Senator Warren led a bipartisan group of senators in urging the Treasury Department to establish an Office of Tribal Affairs.
  • In August, Senator Warren and Representative Davids sent a letter to the Indian Health Service (IHS) urging the agency to ensure that culturally appropriate supports are in place for survivors and communities affected by the Indian Boarding School Policies.
  • In July, Senator Warren reintroduced a bill, the Reconciliation in Place Names Act (S. 2400), with Representative Al Green (D-Texas) to address land units and geographic features with racist and bigoted names.
  • Senator Warren has been an outspoken supporter of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Reauthorization Act of 2021, which included provisions from Senator Warren's bipartisan, bicameral American Indian and Alaska Native Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (AI/AN CAPTA) (S. 1868) to help provide tribal nations with resources to combat child abuse and neglect.