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Marcella LeBeau: A Lakota warrior

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe legend Marcella LeBeau (Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

Marcella LeBeau, is a 102 year old member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Eagle Butte whose Lakota name is Wignuke Wate Win (Pretty Rainbow Woman). Perhaps one of the oldest Native Americans in the Great Plains, she is still spry, extremely alert, humorous and very kind – epitome of what our elders are supposed to be.

She served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps as First Lieutenant, where she earned six medals. She was stationed with the 76th General Hospital Unit and provided care for those injured in the Normandy landings.

In 2004, LeBeau was awarded the French Legion Medal of Honor for her service and dedication during WW2.  “The President of France was there. That was something” she gently smiled. “I don’t know why they picked me when so many others did so much more.”

After she returned to South Dakota, LeBeau worked as a nurse practitioner with the HIS for 31 years, the director of nursing at the Eagle Butte Hospital.  She continued to influence policy outside of her nursing career as a founding member of the North American Indian Women’s Association and on the Tribal Council from 1991-1995.  During that time, she ushered a smoke-free policy for tribal buildings and influenced the Tribe to become the first in South Dakota of pass a smoke-free-air act in 2015.

Most recently, LeBeau helped introduce the Remove the Stain Act, legislation to revoke the Congressional Medals of Honor given to soldiers who took part in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. “I read an article by Tim Giago about what a disgrace it was for these killers to be honored by the Nation’s highest award, and I decided we had to do something about it,” she said.

In addition to recently being inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame, LeBeau was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2006 and has received a lifetime achievement award from South Dakota State University, an honorary doctorate in public service from South Dakota State University in 2018.  In 2021, USA Today named her as one of the most influential Women of the Century.  “Who would think that a little girl from Promise would be honored this way,” she remarked.

The respected elder has some words of wisdom.  “Having gone through boarding school and not being taught my history, I would say to our young people, learn the true Indian history and follow in the steps of our ancestors.”

(Contact Clara Caufield at

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