U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson speaks on the House floor in September 2023 about his bill to protect land at the Wounded Knee Massacre site. (Courtesy of Rep. Johnson’s office)
The U.S. House approved by voice vote Wednesday a bill that would help protect land at the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, where an estimated 350 Lakota were killed by U.S. soldiers.
The site is within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe purchased 40 acres around the site last year and would retain possession of the land under the bill, lead sponsor Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, said.
The wounds from the massacre, which included the killing of noncombatant women and children, remain fresh for the state’s Lakota residents, Johnson said on the House floor earlier this week.
Johnson visited the site in June, he said. At nearby St. John’s Church, the floorboards are still stained with the blood of the wounded and dying who retreated there.
Johnson said he heard on his June visit from the grandson of a survivor of the attack, who grew up hearing of the fear and terror the day evinced.
“These are real people, these are real places,” he said. “These are not ancient tales of a distant land.”
The bill would place 40 acres into protected status for the tribes, Johnson said, providing tribes tools to protect the land.
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out commented on the bill in a news release from Johnson.
“We are pleased the House of Representatives acted quickly to pass this important legislation,” Star Comes Out said. “This bill will protect our sacred land at Wounded Knee. It also continues the healing process for the descendants of victims and survivors of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.”
South Dakota’s U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, both Republicans, introduced an identical bill in the Senate.
Democrats have introduced bills in several sessions of Congress to rescind the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. service members at Wounded Knee, but that measure has not passed either chamber.
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