A House Democrat from Hawaii is pushing to strip the military decorations — including 20 Medals of Honor — from U.S. soldiers who took part in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, where nearly 300 Lakota Sioux people were killed at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Last week, freshman Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele managed to get his “Remove the Stain” amendment included in 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The House approved the must-pass annual bill on a bipartisan vote of 329-101.
“As a native Hawaiian serving on the House Armed Services Committee, I believe it is my duty to bring attention to the generational trauma and concerns of indigenous communities,” Mr. Kahele said in a statement. “We must remind ourselves of the uncomfortable truth that this land, the United States, was taken from indigenous peoples.”
Troopers from the 7th Cavalry were confiscating firearms from a Lakota camp on December 29, 1890, when a struggle broke out between the soldiers and one of the residents, a Sioux named Black Coyote. Historians say he didn’t want to give up his weapon and the struggle sparked a chaotic one-sided firefight that left hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children dead — along with at least 20 soldiers.
Awarding the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military honor, to the 7th Cavalry troopers has been a source of controversy for years. The decorations were doled out much more often in the past — even for peacetime actions — which led to the passing of a 1963 law that stiffened the standards. Recipients now must distinguish themselves “by gallantry and intrepidity” at the risk of life beyond the call of duty.
Other attempts to strip the soldiers of their decorations failed in the Senate. But Mr. Kahele said his amendment is needed for native Americans who have historically been mistreated and removed from their homelands.
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“Although we can never undo the irreparable damage inflicted on indigenous peoples, we can do our best to respect their lands, empower our communities and acknowledge the truth behind our shared history,” he said.