On April 12, 1999, Bob Smith (Oneida Tribe) attended the United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator's Annual Award Ceremony. The color guard was preparing to march to the front of the Ronald Reagan Auditorium in Washington, DC. Bob noticed that the U.S. Army was part of the guard. After speaking with the Sergeant that held the standard he did indeed discover that the "Battle Streamer" for Pine Ridge 1890-1891 which pays honor to the Massacre at Wounded Knee, was included. It should be understood that as an American Indian and veteran he was profoundly offended to see such an obscene symbol of injustice displayed at a ceremony of honor. Bob spoke to the Sergeant who knew practically nothing of the history of that battle streamer. They had just announced that the star-spangled banner was about to be played and the color guard would advance to the front. After notifying his supervisor, he left the auditorium because he could not stand with his hand over his heart and watch the EPA Administrator and the rest of EPA pay honor to this same kind of massacre that is currently called ethic cleansing in Kosovo!
Although we cannot fault the planners of this event, the lack of respect can only be attributed to ignorance and absence of sensitivity. The awarding of medals is a time-honored tradition for Americans to give deserved recognition, as noted in the EPA program, for service "above and beyond" the call of duty, etc.
By submitting the article below to Indian Country Today (a national American Indian newspaper), it is Bob's hope to sensitize planners for future events like this to ethnic sensitivities.
Definition. Massacre, butchery;
1a) the indiscriminate, merciless killing of human beings in large numbers;
b) a large-scale slaughter of animals.
The entire history of the relationships between the Indigenous People (American Indians) and Europeans has been one of conflict and justifying various means for separating the Indian from his land. There were many times when this justification involved genocide and murder. Such was the case in South Dakota, at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29th, 1890. Wounded Knee was the culmination of a series of so called justifiable actions (massacres) that started as soon as Indigenous people were discovered living on San Salvador by Columbus. The Pilgrim set up their religious "blue laws" and used them to justify the massacre of the Pequots. Massacres continued when the Five Civilized Tribes resisted being pushed off their ancestral lands. Massacres continued in the Southwest amongst the Apache, Pueblo, and where ever the lust for riches and land could not be satisfied. The Sand Creek Massacre in 1863 set a new standard for unspeakable atrocities where Colonel Chevington, when asked why children and even infants born and unborn were killed, said "nits make lice".
The facts that make the massacre at Wounded Knee different are that: The Army listed this massacre as a "Battle"; this was the only "massacre" in the history of the United States of America where the Congressional Medal of Honor (20) was awarded; text books and noted historians state that: "The battle of Wounded Knee was the last armed conflict between the Army and the plains Indian" -the Indians had been disarmed and were "prisoners of war" when they were gunned down by the Army.
In modern times the treatment of POWs is governed by international law. In 1890, the Army had a code of conduct and regulations governing the treatment of POWs. Why then were the bullet riddled bodies of women and children found scattered as far as three miles from the camp -no doubt they we shot while attempting to escape.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America. In 1918, the law said "that the President is authorized to present, in the name of the Congress, a Medal of Honor only to each person who, while an officer or enlisted man of the Army shall hereafter, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty". Where was the gallantry and intrepidity when women, children, including toddlers and infants were shot at point blank range in this homicidal craze for revenge. Clearly, this was not heroism, it was cold-blooded murder!
On April 27, 1916, Congress approved an act which provided for the creation of a "Medal of Honor Roll" upon which honorably discharged medal recipients who earned the medal in combat and had attained the age of 65 years were to be recorded, it provided that for "those who met the definition of valor above and beyond the call of duty"-to this day the twenty names of the "Wounded Knee heroes" continue to be listed on the Medal of Honor Roll along with the names of American Indians that have earned the medal! The only precedence for striking names from the Medal of Honor Roll occurred in 1916 per a Congressional Act. This Act provided for the appointment of the Secretary of war of a board of five retired general officers for the purpose of investigating and reporting upon past awards or issue of the medal of honor by or through the War Department. Between October 16, 1916, and January 17, 1917, all of the 2,625 Medals of Honor which had been awarded up to that time were considered by the Board, and on February 15, 1917, 911 names were stricken from the list. Among those who lost their medal was William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, and Mary Walker, a Civil war surgeon and the only woman ever to receive the honor.
On June 12, 1989, the Secretary of the Army approved of the restoration of the Medal of Honor to five civilian scouts, including "Buffalo Bill",seventy-two years after they were removed from the Medal of Honor Roll by the special review board.
A letter, received from the Department of the Army stated in part: "In view of this past precedence, it is recommended that you pursue this matter through the legislative Branch of our Government. Perhaps the Senate Armed Services Committee or your Congressman. In any event, the Secretary of the Army cannot have names stricken from the Medal of Honor Roll without congressional and presidential approval."
Comparisons could be made between the massacres at Wounded Knee-1890 and the Viet Nam massacre at My Lai-1968, both were dark skinned native peoples that were just trying to live on the land given to them by the Creator, but were regarded by the soldiers killing them as vermin to be exterminated. The body counts included entire families including infants.
What happened to the Army officers in command of the soldiers that committed these massacres? The answer is; they were forgiven and neither Colonel Forsyth nor Lieutenant Calley spent a day in jail.
Colonel Forsyth was under house arrest for 18 months while the Army conducted an investigation of the massacre and was cleared of all charges. Taken from a publication entitled "Annual Reunion, June 14th 1910, ...for his disposition of his troops in this affair, General Forsyth was placed in arrest by the Commanding General of the Military Division of the Missouri, and afterward brought before a Court of Inquiry. The finding of the Court did not meet with the approval of the Commanding General although the Court was of his own ordering. What the findings of the Court were the writer does not know, as he has been unable to obtain a copy of them and only writes from hearsay, but he understands that they were satisfactory to the friends of General Forsyth as well as to the Secretary of War." In the following years he was promoted and attained the rank of Major General. In 1892 he established the Cavalry and Light Artillery School for the Army at Ft. Riley , Kansas, retiring in 1897. Ft. Riley Kansas is the site of the U.S. Cavalry Museum. The Director of the museum in a letter dated 6 October, 1997, wrote: "It should also be remembered that the Indian used both women and children as a shield while the warriors tried to annihilate one of the cavalry troops."
Lieutenant Calley, in 1968 was court-martialed and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. President Nixon shamed himself and intervened and had the sentence reduced to three years under house arrest in his apartment at Fort Benning with visitation rights for his girlfriend. So in effect, he too was exonerated.
In the past few years we have all witnessed the tremendous outpouring of sympathy and support for the disasters at Lockerbie, Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing. The entire nation is still in mourning for these disasters and artifacts are put on the sites like teddy bears, dolls, and toys of the deceased children. Many survivors and survivors of victims received and continue to receive counseling as the nation continues to grieve.
Did America ever grieve for the victims of Wounded Knee or My Lie?. Did we ever consider the families of the victims that had to go on after these massacres? Was there counseling and teddy bears for the victims of these insane atrocities?
The media is responsible for much of what we feel as a nation as we watched the victims of these disasters removed from the rubble. The Vietnam war was brought right into the living room of the American Public through live television. Because of the media coverage the anti-war protesters no longer believed the lies the military was feeding us that we were not only winning the war but doing the right thing. In 1890 there was no live television and the news papers believed and printed the lies being feed to them.
Recently our nation was appalled at massacres that are happening in all parts of the world and we are launching cruise and tomahawk missiles along with air strikes to protect civilian populations from this merciless killing. During the Kosovo crisis, President Clinton spoke of NATO's intervention and said on national television that: " how would it be if we just looked the other way while these massacres continued." He also mentioned the unfairness of innocent civilians going up against tanks and other modern weapons. The paradox is that this Administration and those since 1779 have looked the other way when Native Peoples were massacred in our own country! In 1890, there was no NATO to intervene when the army with modern weapons (the hotchkiss rapid fire cannon) and the rest of the fire power proceeded to indiscriminately slaughter entire families who were "prisoners of war".
What happened a Wounded Knee is the epitome of evil. Sovereign Tribal Governments, Tribal Organizations, Veterans , Senators, Congressmen and the United States Army have to come together and step forward and draft legislation to correct this base evil.
That evil is being perpetuated by the President, Congress and the U.S. Army by continuing to ignore the evil of having 20 names on the Congressional Medal of Honor Roll that any decent person knows is wrong. It is evil for the U.S. Army to proudly display the "Pine Ridge 1890-1891" battle steamer on the army flags displayed at the Pentagon, White House in our Nations' Capital and it bases throughout the world. We as a people can no longer look the other way.
"EVIL CAN ONLY EXIST WHEN GOOD MEN CHOOSE TO DO NOTHING"
1. I sent an inquiry to the National Archives and found out that when the board of five generals reviewed the medals in 1916 that the president of the board was Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles. Gen. Miles had a long history of fighting Indians and was Col. Forsyth's commander when the 7th Cavalry massacres the families at Wounded Knee. Having Gen. Miles as president of the review board put the lid on the Army cover-up of the massacre. How long will we as Indian People stand for this!
2. Following is from the 1891 Report of the Secretary of War:
At 5:20 the following via Fort Bennett:
Rapid City, S. DAK, December 29, 1890
Col. H. C. Merriam, (Care Commanding Officer, Fort Meade):
Forsythe reports while disarming Big Foot's band this morning fight occurred. Capt. Wallace and 5 soldiers killed, Lieut. Garlington and 15 wounded. Large number of Indians killed and wounded. Some escaped west and may go north. Have your command in condition to intercept or pursue. Possibly a large number may break away and go north and west. The main body of your command should be not a great ways from forks of Cheyenne.
By command of Gen. Miles.