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Marcella LeBeau, Lakota advocate for Wounded Knee medal removal, dies at 102

The former combat nurse who served in the Battle of the Bulge had traveled to Washington, D.C., to call for the removal of Medals of Honor conferred on members of the U.S. 7th Calvary.

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Marcella LeBeau asked candidates if they would support the Remove the Stain Act on Aug. 20 at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum in Sioux City, Iowa. Forum News Service file photo

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. — A leading Lakota voice for removing military honors conferred on participants of the Wounded Knee Massacre has died at age 102.

Marcella LeBeau had gained international notice not only for her heroism as a combat nurse during the Battle of the Bulge but also for her calls on Congress to strip medals from members of the 7th Calvary, who in 1890 committed an act that she termed an "horrific, unprovoked massacre" upon Chief Spotted Elk's band on Pine Ridge for which, she argued, there has "never been closure."

She was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in north-central South Dakota. LeBeau's death was confirmed by a tribal spokesman to Forum News Service on Monday, Nov. 22.

A war hero in her own right, and recipient of a French Legion of Honor medal, LeBeau worked for 30 years in Indian Health Services as a nurse in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, serving in tribal government positions and public health positions . Most recently, LeBeau wrote an editorial calling on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to rethink her opposition to checkpoints set up by tribal governments at reservation borders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in recent years, LeBeau had become the leading figure in a movement to pull medals from the nearly two dozen soldiers from the 7th Calvary for their role in what historians concur was a massacre against many unarmed Lakota, including women and children in Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.

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As recently as 2019, LeBeau traveled to Washington, D.C., where she advocated for the Remove the Stain Act , which would revoke those 20 medals.

"There is no bravery in the massacre of innocent, unarmed men, women and children and their leader who was laying there helpless suffering from pneumonia all under a white flag of truce," LeBeau told a congressional committee in prepared testimony earlier this year.

On Monday, the Remove the Stain bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a statement to Forum News Service saying LeBeau "lived a remarkably full life."

"Her decades of service to the United States and to Indian Country will never be forgotten," said Warren, adding she deeply appreciated LeBeau's efforts to advance justice for Native people.

Noem released a statement Monday evening, saying LeBeau — whose Lakota name was Pretty Rainbow Woman — possessed a "a kind, servant's heart."

"In addition to keeping her people healthy, she protected their heritage by helping repatriate important cultural items belonging to the tribes," Noem said.

A mother, grandmother, and tribal elder, LeBeau had traveled to Oklahoma earlier this month for induction in the National Native American Hall of Fame . Last month, a mural honoring LeBeau and Rapid City Indigenous activist Natalie Stites Means also went up along a road leading into North Rapid.

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A mural, as seen on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, by artist Derek "Focus" Smith on the side of a motel in Rapid City, South Dakota features Marcella LeBeau, a Cheyenne River Lakota elder and decorated veteran, and Natalie Stites Means, a community organizer and 2019 mayoral candidate. Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service

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