Noted Lakota elder Marcella Labeau has died. She was a decorated World War 2 veteran serving as a nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps where she helped soldiers injured during the Normandy landings. A citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe she served on that nation’s council for four years in the early 1990s. She was inducted into the Native American Hall of Fame on Nov. 6, 2021 at age 102. She told Native America Calling producer Andi Murphy how much she appreciated the recognition.
“I’ve had many honors in my life. But to be honored by Native American people is the greatest honor I’ve received,” LaBeau said.
Labeau served as the director of nursing at the Eagle Butte IHS hospital. Among other things she was known for her leadership in health policy and wellness. In a written statement, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wrote: “As a proud member of the Lakota, Wigmunke Waste Win (Pretty Rainbow Woman) served both her community and her country as a member of the Greatest Generation. Her service as a nurse during World War II has been chronicled by historians. Her dedication as a nurse in the Indian Health Services for more than 30 years has left a legacy that will live in our hearts and minds forever.”
In 2020, USA Today profiled LaBeau as one of the Women of the Century.
In recent years she was also a champion of the effort to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to the soldiers who participated in the Wounded Knee massacre on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1890. At the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Candidates Forum in 2019, she asked each of the candidates the same question: whether they would support the Remove the Stain Act.
“On the Cheyenne River Reservation, there is a pervasive sadness because of Wounded Knee and what happened there,” LaBeau told the candidates at the forum. “There has never been closure” she said, and taking away the medals would go a long way toward healing. Flanked by then-Representative Debra Haaland, she made the same case to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Labeau celebrated her 102nd birthday in October before traveling to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma where she was inducted with seven others into the Native American Hall of Fame. She died Sunday, Nov. 21.