April 24, 2021 Wayne Northey

Tribes Want Medals Awarded for Wounded Knee Massacre Rescinded

Native Americans are stepping up efforts to pressure Congress to revoke Medals of Honor awarded for the killings of Sioux, including unarmed women and children, at Wounded Knee.

Mark Walker

April 23, 2021

photo above: Kristina Barker for The New York Times

WN: This kind of story can be repeated ubiquitously in European worldwide Empire/colonization history over many centuries. One post of many is:  The Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism. Related posts may be pursued there.

“Moving on” as beneficiaries of past wrongs without at least attempts at making right diminishes any “civilization” worthy of the name; keeps its victims in perpetual spiritual lockdown. All victimization studies indicate this.

There is a way out. This was hauntingly and beautifully displayed in the 1986 film, The Mission, directed by Roland Joffé; with a role (as Sebastian) played in the film and as advisor by activist, pacifist, author, playwright, poet and priest, Father Daniel Berrigan.

It is doing profound penance.

Cinematically, the scene described in the following final two sentences (prosaically here–but positively beatifically in the film!) is the most riveting, beautiful conversion scene this writer has ever viewed! We read in the Wikipedia article:

Mercenary and slaver Rodrigo Mendoza makes his living kidnapping natives such as the Guaraní community and selling them to nearby plantations, including the plantation of the Spanish Governor Don Cabeza. After returning from another kidnapping trip, his assumed fiancée, Carlotta, confesses to Mendoza that she is actually in love with his younger half-brother Felipe. Mendoza later finds them in bed together and, in a fit of rage, kills Felipe in a duel. Although he is acquitted of the killing of Felipe, Mendoza spirals into depression. Father Gabriel visits and challenges Mendoza to undertake a suitable penance. Mendoza accompanies the Jesuits on their return journey, dragging a heavy bundle containing his armour and sword. After initially tense moments upon reaching the outskirts of the natives’ territory, since they recognize their former persecutor, the natives soon come to forgive a tearful Mendoza and cut away his heavy bundle.

A final title declares that many priests have continued to fight–many paid for with their lives1–for the rights of indigenous people into the present day. The film concludes with the text of John 1:5:

The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness hath not overcome it.

This presents the ultimate response required of us in the Christian faith–of all people with humanitarian hearts.  We settlers around the world must repent like Mendoza, do the heavy lifting of active penance (Mendoza chooses to drag his former self–his violent ways represented by the heavy armour and sword–up the side of spectacular Iguazu Falls, then is met by the knife-wielding Guaraní Chief with war paint who cuts him free–metaphorically of his violent past–and welcomes him as a brother), then walk together in new freedom and purposeful action.

We all, the film shows us, must likewise choose appropriate active means of penance, unique to our historical cultural moment.  When/if those contemporary victims of cultural and real-life genocide offer us the freedom of forgiveness, nothing in the past is changed, but all may move forward together in a new trajectory of hope and freedom. For us settlers, to move forward is to continue along that trajectory of peacemaking and forgiveness in concrete real-world actions . . . Amen!

excerpts:

On Dec. 29, 1890, along the Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southwest corner of South Dakota, the U.S. Army killed hundreds of unarmed members of the Lakota Sioux tribe, including many women and children.

In the aftermath of one of the bloodiest acts of violence against Native Americans by federal forces, the government looked into the conduct of the troops of the Seventh Cavalry — and decided to award 20 Medals of Honor, the nation’s highest military commendation, to soldiers involved in the massacre.

Now members of the tribe are stepping up a long-running pressure campaign to have those medals rescinded, saying that the government should recognize the atrocity for what it was and take a step that could help heal the historical wounds of that day.

Marcella Lebeau, center, a citizen of the Two Kettle Band, Cheyenne River Sioux, is among those pushing for the medals to be rescinded.Credit…Kali Robinson/Associated Press

“I believe on our reservation, we have a pervasive sadness that exists here because of what happened at Wounded Knee, the massacre, and it has never been resolved and there has never been closure,” said Marcella Lebeau, a citizen of the Two Kettle Band, Cheyenne River Sioux.

Ms. Lebeau, a 101-year-old veteran who served during World War II as a surgical nurse near the front at the 25th General Hospital in Liège, Belgium, and later worked for the Indian Health Service, is among those pushing for the medals to be rescinded. Ms. Lebeau said she was especially bothered by the fact the country’s most prestigious military decoration was awarded to men who slaughtered women and children.

Many of the award citations noted “gallant conduct in battle” and “distinguished” or “conspicuous” bravery, while documenting few details to justify those characterizations.

To date, the nation has awarded more than 3,500 Medals of Honor, including about 400 to soldiers who fought during campaigns against Native Americans. About 900 awards have been rescinded, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, most for awards made during the Civil War, but no medals awarded for service in the Indian campaigns have been revoked.

Bernardo Rodriguez, a tribal council representative for the Wounded Knee District of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said that the community was reminded every day about the tragedy by a memorial to it — and that action by the government to rescind the medals was more than 100 years overdue.

“We’ve been pushed, pulled, put aside and treated like second-class citizens since Day 1 and never given a chance,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I want them to know and to understand that this would be the same as giving a Medal of Honor to the Nazis of Auschwitz.”

Please click on: Medals Awarded Rescinded

Footnotes
  1. for example Óscar Romero[]

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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