Senators Urge Biden to Remove 'Shame on Nation'

They want him to revoke medals awarded after Wounded Knee massacre
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2021 7:21 AM CDT
Senators Urge Biden to Revoke Wounded Knee Medals
A grave marker is illuminated by the sun at the Wounded Knee Memorial.   (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, File)

Soldiers who gunned down Lakota women and children in one of the worst massacres in American history do not deserve the nation's highest military honor, 17 senators argued in a letter to President Biden this week. The lawmakers—16 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders—said it was "a persistent shame on the nation" that 20 medals awarded to soldiers who took part in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota have not been revoked, the New York Times reports. The letter was organized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who also tried to have the medals rescinded with 2019's Remove the Stain Act. With that bill stalled, the lawmakers have asked Biden to revoke the medals through executive action.

Historians say between 200 and 400 Lakota Sioux people, most of them women and children, were killed by 7th Cavalry troops after a shot was fired while soldiers were disarming a group that had surrendered. Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a commander who was not involved in the incident, described it as a "brutal, cold-blooded massacre," the Washington Post reports. Victims included "women with little children on their backs, and small children powder-burned by the men who killed them being so near as to burn the flesh and clothing with the powder of their guns, and nursing babies with five bullet holes through them," he wrote in an 1891 letter.

The medals awarded to 7th Cavalry troops praise their bravery and "gallant conduct in battle," though historians believe most of the casualties on the US side were the result of friendly fire. Historians also note that the number of medals was unusually high for a "battle" that only lasted around an hour. More than 900 Medals of Honor were rescinded after a new set of criteria introduced in 1916 was made retroactive, but the Wounded Knee medals were not affected. In their letter to Biden, the senators said revoking the medals would have a "profound and lasting impact" on the descendants of the victims. (More Wounded Knee stories.)

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