Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old World War II veteran from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, asks the 2020 presidential candidates about their support for the Remove the Stain Act, a bill to rescind the Medals of Honor for the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa, on August 20, 2019. Photo: Ho-Chunk Inc

'Remove the Stain': Wounded Knee bill draws attention in presidential circles

Correction: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) sponsored S.Res.415, the women veterans resolution that includes Lori Piestewa, who was the first Native woman to die in combat. A prior version of this post incorrectly said Warren co-sponsored the resolution.

Legislation to revoke the Medals of Honor awarded to those who participated in the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee is gaining steam on Capitol Hill.

Making good on a pledge first announced to Indianz.Com, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a leading Democratic candidate for president, will introduce the Remove the Stain Act in the U.S. Senate. She has lined up a several co-sponsors for the legislation, which has already been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with the full support of Wounded Knee descendants.

"The horrifying acts of violence against hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee should be condemned, not celebrated with Medals of Honor," Warren said in a statement released a month ahead of the anniversary of the December 27, 1890, attack in present-day South Dakota.

"The Remove the Stain Act acknowledges a profoundly shameful event in U.S. history, and that's why I'm joining my House colleagues in this effort to advance justice and take a step toward righting wrongs against Native peoples," Warren said of her companion to H.R.3467.

Co-sponsors of the Senate version include one other high-profile Democratic candidate for president. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) previously announced his support for the Remove the Stain Act during the recent Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum, after Warren first disclosed her plans.

"Massacring women and children is not an act of great bravery," Sanders said on August 20 when asked about revoking the Medals of Honor by Marcella LeBeau, a 99-year-old citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe whose service in World War II has been widely recognized.

"It is an act of depravity," Sanders said of the actions of the 20 men who were rewarded with the U.S. military's highest honor for participating in the attack.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) is another prominent supporter, having endorsed the Remove the Stain Act during the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum as well. She dropped out of the running for the White House on Tuesday but remains committed to securing justice -- which was a strong theme of her campaign -- on behalf of the Wounded Knee descendants.

"History must reflect that Wounded Knee was a massacre of hundreds of defenseless Native men, women, and children at the hands of U.S. soldiers," Harris said in a news release.

"We will never be able to remove the pain and trauma caused by these acts of violence, but we can continue to fight for justice," Harris continued. "Revoking these Medals of Honor is one step forward and I am proud to join my colleagues to address our country's wrongs."

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Phyliss Hollow Horn | Remove the Stain Act

The strong level of support for the Remove the Stain Act was welcomed by Wounded Knee descendants, some of whom came to Capitol Hill over the summer to call on the U.S. Congress to revoke the Medals of Honor for the attack on their Lakota ancestors. They thanked Warren and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), another lead sponsor, for taking up the cause.

"The descendants of our relatives who were massacred at Wounded Knee are deeply touched and grateful to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for introducing the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate," said Manny C. Iron Hawk of the Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890. "Their courageous efforts in righting a wrong are encouraging with moving into the future. Their actions show that the U.S. Senate is moving toward acting in a more reconciliatory way."

"I am a direct lineal descendant of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre," added Phyllis Hollow Horn, who serves as chairwoman of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Descendants Society. "I want to express my deepest appreciation to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for their work in the Senate regarding the Remove the Stain Act. May our relatives rest in peace."

Iron Hawk and Hollow Horn were among the participants in the earlier event on Capitol Hill, which coincided with another key anniversary. June 25 was the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of the Greasy Grass, also known as Battle of the Little Bighorn, better known as a day of triumph among the Lakota people.

"It took 100 years for the United States government to admit it was a massacre and apologize, let's not watch another 100 years or 7 generations pass by to deliver the justice our ancestors deserve," said OJ Semans, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who serves as co-executive director of Four Directions, an advocacy group that helped organize the Bighorn Day event.

"The introduction of the Remove the Stain Act is also a step to changing the narrative of U.S. history from one of denial and erasure to one that can build a future of equity and tribal sovereignty," said Judith LeBlanc, a citizen of the Caddo Nation who serves as director of the Native Organizers Alliance. She also took part in the Capitol Hill event.

Four Directions and the Native Organizers Alliance were the hosts of the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum, which took place in Iowa, a key state in the presidential race. The historic gathering focused on a wide range of Indian Country's needs and priorities, with the Remove the Stain Act high on the agenda over two days in Sioux City, a crossroads for Indian nations in the region.

The impact was immediate, as almost every candidate expressed support for revoking the Medals of Honor despite the legislation being introduced only two months prior. While four of the participants have since dropped out -- Steve Bullock, Joe Sestak and Bill de Blasio in addition to Kamala Harris -- the endorsements helped draw attention to issues that might otherwise get lost in a heated and fast-changing political climate.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Marcella LeBeau | Remove the Stain Act

The forum -- which was the first of its kind in more than a decade -- drew 11 candidates altogether, a record number for an Indian event.

"Presidential candidates understand the importance of Native voters and that’s why our first historic event in Sioux City -- the Frank LaMere Presidential Forum -- was a success," Semans said in announcing a follow-up that will take place January 14-15 at the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"This Native American Presidential Forum is just a continuation of bringing Native issues to the forefront and allowing our voices to be heard,” Amber Torres, the chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, and Janet Davis, a council member from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said in a joint statement.

During the forum in Iowa, Torres was among a panel of tribal leaders who engaged in a conversation with Warren. She has since endorsed the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts for president.

"I'm so grateful for Amber Torres's support and I will fight to ensure the United States meets its trust and treaty obligations," Warren said in response.

Warren's announcement on the Remove the Stain Act capped off an otherwise noteworthy Native American Heritage Month for the U.S. Congress. The month of November saw the the House and the Senate pass resolutions recognizing the achievements and contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Warren was a co-sponsor of S.Res.414, which noted that Native Americans serve in the U.S. military at the highest rates of any group, despite past atrocities like the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.

Along those lines, the Senate in November also passed S.Res.415 to honor the women who have served in the U.S. armed forces. The bipartisan measure, which Warren sponsored, highlighted Lori Piestewa, a citizen of the Hopi Tribe who was the first Native woman to die in combat. She was killed in action in 2003, during the war in Iraq.

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