A Wound That Won’t Heal
By Richard W. Hill. Sr.
Last Edit: Oct 7, 1999
Claudia Iron Hawk Sully testified that the actual numbers of Indians killed at Wounded Knee numbered 2 or 3 times than usually reported. She told of some children who were hiding in a small cave after the first attack. The soldiers discovered the cave and told the children to come out as they would not be harmed. When they did crawl out they were hacked to death with sabers. High Hawk, who witnessed this crawled back into the cave to survive. One man reported seeing the soldiers shoving a young boy back and forth, cutting him to shreds each time. They finally let him drop to the ground with his flesh hanging from his bones like torn rags.
In 1968 the federal government designated the Wounded Knee site a historic national landmark. The Wounded Knee Survivors Association developed proposed legislation that called for Congress to make a formal apology to the Sioux people for the 1890 massacre; establish a national monument and memorial at the massacre site; compensate the descendants of the Indian victims for the killing or wounding of their relatives in the form of educational and community benefits and compensation for personal property confiscated by the Army off the bodies of the dead victims. During testimony on the proposed resolution the descendants claimed that 426 of their relatives were killed as a result of the attack at Wounded Knee. The Bureau of Indians Affairs maintained that only 200 people were killed or wounded. Congress finally passed Concurrent Resolution #153 on October 19, 1990, whereby the U.S. Congress acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the tragedy at Wounded Knee Creek, State of South Dakota, December 29, 1890. That resolution stated that soldiers of the United States Army 7th Cavalry killed and wounded approximately 350-375 Indian men, women, and children of Chief Big Foot’s band of the Minneconjou Sioux. The text of the resolution concludes:
“Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
“(1) the Congress, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 29, 1890, hereby acknowledges the historical significance of this event as the last armed conflict of the Indian wars period resulting in the tragic death and injury of approximately 350-375 Indian men, women, and children of Chief Big Foot’s band of Minneconjou Sioux and hereby expresses its deep regret on behalf of the United States to the descendants of the victims and survivors and their respective tribal communities;
“(2) the Congress also hereby recognizes and commends the efforts of reconciliation initiated by the State of South Dakota and the Wounded Knee Survivors Association and expresses its support for the establishment of a suitable and appropriate Memorial to those who were so tragically slain at Wounded Knee which could inform the American public of the historic significance of the events at Wounded Knee and accurately portray the heroic and courageous campaign waged by the Sioux people to preserve and protect their lands and their way of life during this period; and
“(3) the Congress hereby expresses its commitment to acknowledge and learn from our history, including the Wounded Knee Massacre, in order to provide a proper foundation for building an ever more humane, enlightened, and just society for the future.” (35)
It is important to note that this resolution is not an apology. It is a statement of “deep regret.” Congress denied any attempts for reparations, however, there was a promise to provide funding for a monument and reparations in the future. Ironically, there was a ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June 1986. It was a healing of sorts as both the descendant of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians who defeated Custer in 1876 and the current members of the 7th Cavalry. Together they witnessed the reburial of the remains of 34 soldiers who were killed in action with Custer. They were reburied at the Custer Battlefield with full military honor. In his invocation, Reverend Vincent Heir of Mount Carmel Catholic Church of St. Louis called for an end of the “clash of cultures” that the battle represented. Indian spiritual leaders called for a new day of healing and peace. However, the Congressional resolution of 1990 fell short of healing the wounds from the massacre of 1890. In retrospect, even if a formal apology was issued, it still would not be enough. The issue of the Medals of Honor, the Battle Streamers and the lack of justice would continue unresolved.
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