Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

I was at a recent heritage month commemoration where the US Military Color Guard opened the ceremony with the presentation of colors. It is a solemn and sacred exercise when viewing the flag of every branch of the military as well as the battle streamers attached to each flag of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

The ceremony begins by the caller walking purposefully to where the flags will be posted, stands at attention, with the body erect, hands stiffly at the sides, and heels touching. He or she then tells the color guard to prepare to present the colors and then orders them to attention after a short pause.

Sitting in the front row, I could almost touch the battle streamers for each flag as they were presented. The Army flag was the one that caught my attention particularly one battle streamer that read “Pine Ridge 1890-1891.” I was a little taken at back first. What battle took place at Pine Ridge in the 1890’s? Then the light bulb came on in my head. They are referencing the Battle at Wounded Knee or as it commonly known in Indian Country as the “Massacre at Wounded Knee.” Even Congress changed their mind about what happened at Wounded Knee when 1990, they passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 153 that described Wounded Knee as a massacre and not a battle. Implying Wounded Knee was a battle would mean that it was fair fight.

What really happened on December 29, 1890 that prompted the US government to issue a battle streamer that resulted in the highest number of Medals of Honors ever issued by the Army for any armed conflict in US military history? My government and your government killed more than 200 innocent Lakota women and children along with 90 other warriors on a day that lives in infamy for American Indians/Alaska Natives. Some historians think the death toll is actually closer to 350.

The question most American Indians/Alaska Natives ask is how the US, one of the most powerful nations in the world can validate the creation of a battle streamer and the awarding of Medals of Honor for this shameless slaughter? Why does the federal government continue to shame the victims of Wounded Knee and their ancestors with this “in your face” reminder of injustice? Did they forget that American Indians/Alaska Natives serve in the present day armed forces at the highest per capita rates than any other racial group in the US?

The next time you say the pledge of allegiance to a flag that still waves a “battle streamer” that represents the home of the free and land of the brave, think about that phrase “liberty and justice for all.” Something the victims of Wounded Knee are still waiting on.

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