In the current political climate, the constant grumblings from Democrats pandering for votes have led to calls for reparations for Black and LGBTQ persons, reimbursements for broke millennials who took out student loans, and free health care for illegal aliens. With such virtue signaling, why are the presidential candidates ignoring the requests by Native American groups to rescind 20 Medals of Honor awarded to troops responsible for the massacre of 300 unarmed Native Americans at Wounded Knee Creek?
It’s perhaps the best idea in the 2020 race to the White House, but only a few brave bi-partisan souls are wading into turbulent waters. Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA), Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Paul Cook (R-CA) are introducing legislation to officially annul the medals awarded to members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry division in 1890.
Medals of Dishonor?
On December 15, 1890, the 7th U.S. Calvary – the reconstructed regiment lost by George Armstrong Custer — was given orders to round up members of the Sioux nation who had wandered off the reservation. They surrounded men, women, and children, and simply opened fire.
Chief Big Foot was executed as he lay recovering from pneumonia in his tent. The contemporary accounts to the Commander-in-Chief by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles were chilling: Powder burns were found on the dead, including infants, indicating they had been shot at close range, and the wounded were left to freeze to death in the snow. Official reports also described an unprepared, reactionary, cavalry – positioned so haphazardly that at least 25 were killed by friendly fire.
A career military man, Miles reported he had “never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee.”
Yes, war is war, and as misguided as the massacre at Wounded Knee was, soldiers under orders did act heroically in the heat of battle. But it was a battle that should have been easily avoided. One member of the 7th, Hugh McGinnis, recalled his experience in the 1960s for Real West Magazine. He described the “screams of mothers as machine gun bullets tore their bodies apart. The curses of the Indian warriors, fighting machine guns and cannons with old muskets, knives and tomahawks, being cut down in rows …”
Oliver Semans, a Sicangu Lakota Tribe member and founder of the Native American voting rights group Four Directions, has asked President Trump to rescind the medals without going through the Congressional process. In a letter, he politely rebukes Mr. Trump for his invoking of Native American battles but also points to the ease in which the leader of the free world could easily right what he sees as a stain on the nation:
“Many of my ancestors were among the Lakota people murdered that chilling winter day. Those innocent Lakota people had committed no crime. They were making no war. Rather, they were seeking hope and refuge on the frozen Plains of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation while the United States continued to violate the Treaties of 1851 and 1868.”
Semans has not heard from one single Democratic presidential contender – including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — and is past the point of being patient, warning that “If the candidates want to ignore us, we should ignore them.”
It was Republican President Benjamin Harrison who awarded the nation’s highest honor to the soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee massacre. And for all the wrong reasons. Harrison was barreling into the 1892 election year against his political nemesis, former President Grover Cleveland, and needed to grow support. Playing on the issues of the day – the Indian Wars – Harrison made the news with the Medals of Honor stirring up his electorate. He then went on to lose to Cleveland.
Sounds eerily familiar, what with free college, debt forgiveness, and slavery and LGBTQ reparations being paraded by every Democrat eyeing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But somehow, rescinding 20 medals to right a tragic wrong according to many Native Americans is nowhere on the checklist for candidate soundbites.
The proverbial ball is in Trump’s court and this is the perfect time to demonstrate he is about Making America Great Again – all of it. Or he can let history remain as it is, allowing the memory of soldiers caught up in a hellish moment in time to rest in peace.
Perhaps before making a decision, the president should consider the words uttered by McGinnis decades ago: “I am now ninety-four, the last surviving member of Troop K, 7th Cavalry. The seventy-four years have never completely erased the ghastly horror of that scene and I lay still awake at night from nightmarish dreams of that massacre.”
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