SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Will you remove the stain of the Medals of Honor given to U.S. military soldiers for the Wounded Knee Massacre?
That’s what 99-year-old Marcella LeBeau wanted to know from each Democratic presidential candidate who attended the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum Tuesday, Aug. 20.
LeBeau, a tribal elder, traveled to the forum from the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation in South Dakota to ask each of the candidates in attendance if they would support the Remove the Stain Act. The act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., would revoke the 20 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers who participated in the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, that resulted in the death or injury of about 350 Indigenous people — most of whom were women and children.
“We have a pervasive sadness that exists on our reservation because of Wounded Knee and our unresolved grief,” LeBeau said. She added that each winter the Lakota people ride horses from Standing Rock to Wounded Knee in commemoration of the massacre.
“Our people still remember,” she said.
The Congressional Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,522 times, according to the legislation, including 145 times for the Korean War, 126 times for World War I, 23 times during the Global War on Terror, and 20 times for Wounded Knee.
Presidential candidate Mark Charles, an independent and a citizen of the Navajo Nation, responded that he “absolutely” supports the act.
“We need to rescind these medals,” he said. “They have no place in a nation that claims to value freedom and equality and diversity and pluralism.”
Another candidate, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said: “It is absolutely unacceptable not only that that massacre occurred but that it was celebrated by our military. We have to remove the stain.”
Candidate Julian Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary, said he supports the act, adding that the massacre is “a shameful part of this country’s history.”
Candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Congressman John Delaney also confirmed their support for the act.
"Medals of Honor are given rarely, and they're given to people who do very, very important things. Massacring women and children is not an act of bravery. It is an act of depravity," Sanders said.
LeBeau, who served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during World War II, said she was “very pleased” with the unanimous “yes” from the candidates.
“I think something will be done,” she said. “I’m hoping it will pass.”