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Efforts To Heal Wounds Of Wounded Knee Massacre


Tensions between Native Americans and White Americans often have roots in tragedies of the past. This week, a descendant of a U.S. Army commander at the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre went to South Dakota to apologize for his ancestor's role in the killing of hundreds of unarmed Lakota tribe members. Jim Kent reports.

JIM KENT, BYLINE: In a small white, wooden church on the Cheyenne River Reservation, Brad Upton asked forgiveness from the Lakota people for his great-great-grandfather's actions.

BRAD UPTON: Colonel James Forsyth is my great-great-grandfather. When I was 16, my great uncle, who was a West Point career Army officer, sent me pictures of the Lakota corpses at Wounded Knee. And he was proud of it. And I felt immediate shame and sadness.

KENT: On December 29, 1890, members of Forsyth's 7th Cavalry unit fired on unarmed Lakota men, women and children on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. More than 300 died in a tragedy that still causes cultural and psychological trauma among the Lakota. The federal government made matters worse by awarding 20 medals of honor to U.S. Army troopers who took part in the massacre. Upton supports legislation that's currently in Congress to rescind those medals and hopes his ancestors would have backed the legislation as well.

UPTON: We're hoping that the Remove the Stain Act will be passed and supported. And we're working to that.

UPTON: Dena Waloke is a descendant of Ghost Horse who was killed at Wounded Knee.

DENA WALOKE: I think our kids have to know, our grandchildren, that it was a massacre but still cannot be going on with anger because it happened, you know? We need to forgive and heal from all that. That way, you know, this nation, the whites and the Lakota, we can all be together, have a better world for our grandchildren. That's what we think about is our grandchild, not us.

KENT: Attempts to amend the historical narrative of the U.S. Army's role in European settling in the West often face strong opposition. South Dakota's congressional delegation has been mostly silent on the bill to rescind the medals of honor. But Dena Waloke and members of the 1890 Heartbeat at Wounded Knee Society are hopeful the Remove the Stain Act will eventually be passed by Congress.

For NPR News, I'm Jim Kent on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

(SOUNDBITE OF LANTERNA'S "ADRIATIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Kent is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. A freelance writer and radio journalist who currently lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Jim can be heard on a variety of radio programs including National Public Radio, South Dakota Public Radio, and National Native News Radio. He is also a columnist for the Rapid City Journal and a guest columnist for the Lakota Country Times.