The Wounded Knee Cemetery on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: William O'Brien Fine Art

O.J. Semans: Move forward in reconciliation and rescind honors for massacre at Wounded Knee

The following is the text of a letter sent February 8, 2019, to the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and to the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. It was written by O.J. Semans, a U.S. Navy veteran from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Dear Chairman [James] Inhofe, Ranking Member [Jack] Reed, Chairman [Adam] Smith, and Ranking Member [Mac] Thornberry:

On behalf of Four Directions, I write to ask that you and your committees join Four Directions in righting a grave historical wrong by removing the Medals of Honor awarded to the perpetrators of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Four Directions does not stand alone in making this request; tribes and tribal members, as well as millions of citizens throughout the United States, stand by us and support our request.

129 years ago, members of the 7th Cavalry Regiment committed an atrocity against my ancestors, murdering hundreds of defenseless Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee.

29 years ago, Congress officially expressed its “deep regret,” to me and to all Sioux people, for what it acknowledged was a Massacre at Wounded Knee.

Yet for this atrocity, 20 members of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment still carry the Medal of Honor, the highest honor our nation gives to soldiers for “gallantry” in battle.

U.S. soldiers can be seen in the background as Chief Spotted Elk, also known as Big Foot, lies frozen to death at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota. Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer

In passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 in 1990, Congress acknowledged, 100 years after the fact, that the 7th Cavalry Regiment committed no gallantry in slaughtering innocents at Wounded Knee.

Congress said then it sought to “acknowledge and learn from our history, including the Wounded Knee Massacre, in order to provide a proper foundation for building an ever more humane, enlightened, and just society for the future.”

Gentlemen, that foundation is laid. The future is now. In the spirit of humanity, enlightenment, and justice, we ask the Senate and House Armed Services Committees include in the next National Defense Authorization Act, language rescinding the Medals of Honor wrongly granted for murdering our women and children at Wounded Knee.

As we proceed with our campaign to remove these medals from the individuals who committed this hideous act, Four Directions will be following up to request meetings with you and your top staff, as well as the opportunity to share our concerns with other committee members.

Please do not let another anniversary of this Massacre pass with those Medals of Honor still in place. Take those medals back and let that action promote the noble aim of reconciliation Congress expressed in 1990.

Our Nation’s honor demands it.

Most respectfully,

O.J. Semans, United States Navy Veteran
Co-Executive Director, Four Directions

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