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"WOUNDED KNEE MEDALS AREN’T POLITICAL PAWNS OF CONVENIENCE"
Making a Noise in This World
By Jim Kent
Early this summer the recently re-elected mayor of Rapid City submitted a commentary to the town’s daily newspaper about the Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. Army participants of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
In “Wounded Knee Medals Leave Festering Wound”, Steve Allender called on South Dakota’s Congressional delegation to support rescinding the 20 Medals of Honor given to 7th Cavalry troopers for –paraphrasing the various commendations – “killing Indians in the Wounded Knee campaign”.
The commentary noted “the ongoing and festering wound created by awarding the nation’s highest military honor for the killing of men, women and children during a police action on American soil.”
Okay. Let’s start with the decision by the mayor of a town known across the country for its racism issues to submit a commentary overtly sympathetic to Native Americans regarding a historical event that’s “too impactful” for them to forget.
A mayor who just ran a political campaign against a Lakota woman who criticized the way Native Americans are treated in that town by the mayor and his city council.
A mayor whose town just saw the largest representation of Native Americans – and Native American women – running for office in its history.
A mayor with a history of cracking jokes about Native Americans while working in his former professional capacity as a police officer in that town.
Why would he suddenly opt to express his sympathy for an issue that’s been a public concern of the Lakota people for decades?
Apparently not because legislation calling for rescinding the Wounded Knee Medals of Honor was introduced to Congress just 10 days before his commentary was published – since that legislation isn’t mentioned anywhere in that commentary.
Did the idea to rescind the medals drop into the mayor’s head as he was sitting under Rapid City’s Tree of Cultural Understanding and Human Rights?
Likely not. I believe the answer can be found in another culture, in the words of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who wrote in “An Enemy of the People”: “You attack the national government and what happens? Nothing. They go right on. But nearer to home… now that’s a different matter. Why…a town council can be tossed out…just like that!”
Or… a mayor.
So, you want to make sure that you’re always doing what “the solid majority” wants – whether they’re right or wrong. How do you do that while appearing to support the minority that accuses you and your cronies of not caring about them? You attack the federal government. Not the president. Not the Congress. That vague entity that everyone complains about, as if it’s a disembodied head that operates on its own without the support and involvement of your party – whichever party that may be.
That Allender’s sympathies for the effects of Wounded Knee were a smokescreen are most readily seen in his first chosen reference to the event as a “Battle”.
That he then describes the Massacre as “a police action” shows both an ignorance of military history and an unfamiliarity with what the term means: “Police action” – noun – a localized military action undertaken without formal declaration of war by regular armed forces against persons held to be violators of international peace and order.
If Mayor Allender actually wants to “move forward” and “acknowledge the reality of the present” – as stated in the commentary, he should start closer to home and with current issues, not an historic event.
Take, for example, the recent applications of two Native American women to be a part of Rapid City’s Task Force to determine the need for its Human Rights Commission.
I know – it’s like Arizona creating a task force to decide on the need for water control.
Notwithstanding, two Native women who recently applied to be on that task force: one a well-known member of the Rapid City community, the other the women who ran against Allender for mayor, were both turned down – and in classic contradictory double-talking fashion.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 1999 US Civil Rights Commission hearings in Rapid City, it’s long past time for Steve Allender and his city council to not only acknowledge the need for a human rights commission, but to publicly admit how little has changed since the Civil Rights Commission filed its report on the sorry state of racial equity in Rapid City and in South Dakota.
Steve Allender may be considered a “good ol’ boy” by his city council and at the police department he once ran, but among the Lakota he’s still an Enemy of the People.
Jim Kent is an award-winning freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on National Public Radio and other radio outlets. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.