Tim Giago: No honor in 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee
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. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com.

More Tim Giago:
Tim Giago: Support for Oglala Sioux President Two Bulls (1/11)
Tim Giago: Addressing misconceptions about Indians (1/6)
Tim Giago: Poem still inspirational after many years (12/21)
Tim Giago: Brown's classic 'Bury My Heart' turns 40 (12/17)
Tim Giago: A place for Indian time in this busy world (12/7)
Tim Giago: The final showdown with Chuck Trimble (11/25)
Tim Giago: Open dialogue on America's dirty secret (11/23)
Tim Giago: 'Culturecide' began in Indian Country (11/16)
Tim Giago: The mysterious deaths at Wind River (11/9)
Tim Giago: Tribe responds to corruption allegations (11/4)
Tim Giago: Tribal governments and democracies (11/2)
Tim Giago: Airing allegations of tribal corruption (10/26)
Tim Giago: Native Sun a watchdog for tribes, public (10/21)
Tim Giago: Can ceremonies save Sioux people? (10/19)
Tim Giago: 'Wizard' author backed genocide (10/12)
Tim Giago: Indians left out of bison roundup (10/9)
Tim Giago: Racism against Native Americans (10/5)
Tim Giago: Another nail in the coffin of smokers (9/28)
Native Sun Editorial: Mascots are not an honor (9/22)
Tim Giago: Leaving the anger and the meanness (9/21)
Tim Giago: Indian Reorganization Act turns 75 (9/14)
Tim Giago: They could not kill Lakota spirituality (9/7)
Tim Giago: Don't take IHS criticism at face value (8/31)
Tim Giago: Coffee and bagels with Tim Johnson (8/24)
Tim Giago: Real problems of US health care (8/17)
Tim Giago: Sotomayor puts dent in glass ceiling (8/10)
Tim Giago: Standing ground at Mount Rushmore (8/3)
Tim Giago: Voting Native and voting independent (7/27)
Tim Giago: Rapid City is changing for the better (7/20)
Tim Giago: Frontier mentality still alive in 2009 (7/13)
Tim Giago: The execution of Chief Two Sticks (7/6)
Tim Giago: McDonald's mentality needs revamp (6/29)
Tim Giago: National health care debate and IHS (6/22)
Tim Giago: South Dakota restricts tribal growth (6/15)
Tim Giago: No more status quo for BIA education (6/8)
Tim Giago: Being Indian and being independent (6/1)
Tim Giago: Let Oglala Sioux president do her job (5/27)
Tim Giago: Memorial Day speech at Black Hills (5/25)
Tim Giago: Small victories in battle against mascots (5/18)
Tim Giago: A day of tribal victory at Little Bighorn (5/11)
Tim Giago: Negative Native images in the news (5/4)
Tim Giago: Resolving ownership of the Black Hills (4/27)
Tim Giago: Good things and bad things come in April (4/20)
Tim Giago: An open letter to South Dakota governor (4/13)
Tim Giago: Nostalgia and South Dakota blizzards (4/6)
Tim Giago: An older brother who paved the way (3/30)
Tim Giago: Sticks and stones and Charles Trimble (3/17)
Tim Giago: Pine Ridge team triumphs at tournament (3/16)
Tim Giago: Announcing the Native Sun News (3/9)
Tim Giago: No winners at Wounded Knee 1973 (3/5)
Tim Giago: The real victims of Wounded Knee 1973 (3/2)
Tim Giago: No outrage over abuse of Natives (2/23)
Tim Giago: A perspective on the fairness doctrine (2/16)
Tim Giago: Throwing Tom Daschle under the bus (2/9)
Tim Giago: Native people out of sight, out of mind (2/2)
Tim Giago: Native veteran loses fight against VA (1/26)
Tim Giago: The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness (1/19)
Tim Giago: The stolen generations in the U.S. (1/12)
Tim Giago: Indian Country looks to Tom Daschle for help (1/5)