Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Tim Giago: No honor in 1890 massacre at Wounded KneeMonday, January 18, 2010Filed Under: Opinion

The United States Army has a flag with battle streamers that it breaks out for important parades and celebrations. One streamer is inscribed, “Pine Ridge 1890 – 1891.”

The battle streamer refers to the campaign that occurred on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota from November 1890 to January 1891.

The Pine Ridge battle steamer boasts the highest number of Medals of Honor ever issued by the Army for any engagement. Twenty Medals of Honor were issued for this single action, more than for D-Day, Battle of the Bulge or for Iwo Jima.

Because so many Medals of Honor were issued for this so-called battle the Lakota have always referred to as a “Massacre,” it would take a veritable act of Congress or action by the President of the United States to remove this streamer from the flags of the U. S. Army.

The question asked by all Native Americans is, “How can Medals of Honor, this Nation’s highest military award, be handed out to 20 troopers for taking part in the most wanton slaughter of innocents in the history of America? More than 200 women and children along with more than 90, mostly unarmed, Lakota warriors were shot to death. Some historians and nearly all Lakota say that the number of people slaughtered on that day of infamy, December 29, 1890, was closer to 350.

In 1990 the 101st Congress passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 citing Wounded Knee as a massacre. Army General Nelson Miles often referred to the massacre as “The Big Foot Slaughter (Chief Big Foot).”

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was one of the most shameful, disgraceful and embarrassing episodes to occur in the history of the U. S. Army. The massacre of innocents by the U. S. soldiers at Mai Lai in Vietnam, and the attempted cover-up, was also a black-eye for the U. S. military. There were no Medals of Honor issued for this inhumane slaughter of innocents.

The question begging to be answered on Wounded Knee and the Medals of Honor is: “How in the world can the United States validate awarding Medals of Honor to those soldiers who partook in this shameless slaughter? Were the victims considered to be less than human?”

In 1997 the National Congress of American Indians, the largest Indian organization in America, passed two resolutions asking for the removal of the “offensive battle streamer” and asked that the names of the members of the U. S. Seventh Cavalry (Custer’s old outfit) be stricken from the Medal of Honor Roll and name the so-called action what it was; a massacre, and that the Army flag and its battle streamer be banned from any public functions as long as the Pine Ridge battle streamers are included.

On March 13, 1917, Lt. General Nelson A. Miles said, “Not only the warriors, but the sick Chief Big Foot and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed.” Miles saw it as a massacre of innocent Indian men, women and children, but unlike so many Native Americans, saw no reason to ask for the revocation of the Medals of Honor awarded the killers.

Most of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers killed in the massacre of the Lakota were killed by their own crossfire and died by friendly fire. The Lakota warriors had been disarmed and some of them fought back by taking the weapons from the hands of the soldiers. Long after the first shots were fired troopers of the 7th on horseback tracked down the frightened women and children and slaughtered them with point-blank rifle fire, actions hardly deserving of a Medal of Honor.

This is one horrible mistake that can be easily remedied by Congress and the President of the United States, Barack Obama. It is a stain on the honored battle streamers of the United States Army and a blemish on the medal that so many military personnel have earned through their courage and heroic actions in battle.

There was no heroism in the murder of so many elders and women and children on that cold day at Wounded Knee. It happened on U. S. soil.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008.

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