Merkley, Wyden Announce Senate Companion to Remove the Stain Act

Washington, DC – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced the Senate introduction of legislation to revoke the Medal of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre on December 29, 1890, when U.S. soldiers slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children—most of them unarmed—on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Merkley is co-leading the legislation with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“We have a responsibility to tell the true story of the horrific Wounded Knee Massacre,” Senator Merkley said. “We cannot whitewash or minimize the dark chapters of our history, but instead must remember, reflect on, and work to rectify them.  The massacre of innocents could not be farther from heroism, and I hope this bill helps set the record straight.”

“While we can’t change history, we can change who we as a nation recognize as heroes,” Senator Wyden said. “The soldiers who attacked and killed indigenous peoples at Wounded Knee were no heroes, and they did not deserve to be awarded Medals of Honor. Revoking these medals is the least Congress can do to recognize the irreparable harm that the U.S. government caused to indigenous peoples.”

“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,” said Senator Warren, who co-led the introduction with Senator Merkley. “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.”

As the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of Congress for “gallantry beyond the call of duty.” The soldiers’ acts of violence at Wounded Knee were not heroic, but rather tragic and profoundly shameful. The 101st Congress (1989–1990) adopted a concurrent resolution acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the massacre and “expresse[d] its deep regret on behalf of the United States” for the “terrible tragedy.”

In June 2019, Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA-10), Deb Haaland (D-NM-1), and Paul Cook (R-CA-8) introduced the bipartisan House version of the Remove the Stain Act. In addition to Senators Merkley, Wyden, and Warren, the Senate version is cosponsored by Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The Remove the Stain Act has earned the support of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Coalition of Large Tribes, Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890, the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Descendants Society, Four Directions, the Native Organizers Alliance, VoteVets, Common Defense, Veterans for Peace, Veterans for American Ideals, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“As President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and on behalf of the people of the Oglala band of Lakota, I want to thank Senator Warren and Senator Merkley for bringing the Remove the Stain Act to the Senate. Our Lakota people have suffered a tremendous loss of hundreds of our relatives at the Wounded Knee Massacre and although Congress apologized for this atrocity in 1990, an apology is meaningless without justice and Senators Warren and Merkley’s bill provides some justice to our people,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner.

“We urge prompt enactment of [the Remove the Stain Act] by the House and Senate as an important step in beginning to correct our Country’s past wrong doings and in charting a new path forward based on mutual understanding and respect,” wrote Tribal Chairman Charles R. Vig of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “It is shameful to honor soldiers for massacring defenseless men, women and children. Moreover, it disrespects the entire Native American community who send more men and women to serve in the military at higher rates than any other ethnic group. These twenty Medals of Honor must be rescinded.” Read the full letter of support here. 

“As the Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, it is with great honor on behalf of the Tribal leaders in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota to acknowledge our support for Senator Warren and Senator Merkley’s introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate,” said Chairman Harold Frazier of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association.

“The Coalition of Large Tribes recognizes the importance of Senator Warren and Merkley’s introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate and supports their efforts in being a voice for justice that has been denied for 130 years,” said Chairman Mark Fox of the Coalition of Large Tribes.

“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, an organization consisting of descendants of the Wounded Knee Massacre. “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.  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,” said Phyllis Hollow Horn, Chairwoman of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre Descendants Society.

“Four Directions Inc. gives its heartfelt gratitude to United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley for the introduction of the Remove the Stain Act in the United States Senate. 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, Co-Executive Director of Four Directions.

“As peoples and nations, it is impossible to know where we can go together unless we understand the past and its effect on the present. We are thankful for Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Jeff Merkley’s support for correcting the interpretation of history, which acknowledges the violations of human rights of the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre and their families,” said Judith LeBlanc, Director of the Native Organizers Alliance. “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.”

“Congress should recognize this massacre for what it was, a mistake, and not glorify it with the 20 Medals of Honor that were subsequently awarded. We strongly condemn the violence used against the Sioux people, and believe these medals from Wounded Knee tarnish the Medal of Honor. Congress should act to remove the stain,” wrote Garett Reppenhagen, Executive Director at Veterans for Peace. Read the full letter of support here

“Native Americans serve in the United States armed forces at a higher rate per capita than any ethnic group in the country. To award the soldiers who committed these atrocities at Wounded Knee the highest possible award in the United States military is wrong, and an insult to our Native veterans.  It is imperative that Congress vote to revoke these medals,” wrote Kerri Colfer, Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Read the full letter of support here.

The National Congress of American Indians and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have both passed resolutions calling for the revocation of the medals.

The full text of the legislation is available here.