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Opinion
Tim Giago: Lawsuit challenges church on abuse


Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. � 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

There is a lawsuit just filed that hopes to take up the slack from an earlier lawsuit that failed.

The lawsuit filed on August 7, 2006, in the Seventh Judicial Circuit in the County of Pennington in South Dakota by Attorney Gregory A. Yates of Encino, California is against St. Francis Indian Mission and Rosebud Educational Society, Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, Diocese of Rapid City and Sisters of St. Francis in Denver, CO.

The plaintiffs are Lloyd One Star, Kerwin Eagleman, Ralph Eagleman, Lawrence Ford, Marian Sorace, Noah One Star and Antoinette (One Star) Miller, all former students at St. Francis Indian Mission located on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Mr. Yates intends to bring closure to a suit filed several years ago by Jeffrey Herman and Gary Fischer that attempted to sue the Catholic Church for alleged abuses of Indian children. A judge in this case ruled that this suit had exceeded the Statute of Limitations as set down by law. Yates intends to circumvent this ruling with his suit.

When Herman and Fischer filed their lawsuit, I wrote that I was apprehensive because as a longtime observer of Indian law I understand its complexities and I didn�t believe either Herman or Fischer had the background or the knowledge to bring a lawsuit that so many other attorneys had shied away from over the years.

Jennifer Ring, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, said that Indian law is highly specialized. �It involves a lot of areas of the law that are not commonly taught in law schools in the United States. If you look at the Constitution, one of the powers that the federal government has is, very specifically, the right to regulate affairs dealing with Indian tribes and that is not something that applies to any other minority group. Then you go on to the treaties, interpretation of the treaties, and jurisdictional issues and you will find that there are a lot of rules that apply to Indian country that do not apply anywhere else,� she said.

The plaintiffs charge St. Francis with attempting to strip them of their Native American family values, religious beliefs and culture in an effort to Americanize them. The also charged �Defendants� agents affiliated with the St. Francis School directed, allowed and/or executed customs, patterns, policies and practices of sexual and physical abuse by failing to supervise, monitor, discipline and otherwise protect Plaintiffs, ultimately leading to the abuse alleged herein.�

The litany of alleged abuses reads like a horror story in the pages of the lawsuit. The abuses range from inappropriate touching to outright acts of sodomy. Charges were even leveled at some of the mission nuns for forcing sexual acts upon the children, both boys and girls.

The lawsuit further states, �At all times, Defendants maintained inadequate policies and procedures to protect the children it was entrusted to care for and protect. As a direct and proximate result of Defendants� negligence, Plaintiffs suffered severe and permanent psychological, emotional and physical injuries, shame, humiliation and/or the inability to lead a normal life.�

Twelve former Catholic priests and nuns were named as defendants in the lawsuit. All of them were educators at St. Francis Indian Mission. The case is in the court of public records and is listed as Civil C - 04 -594.

I considered printing the names of the defendants, but decided not to, at least not for now. If any of the heinous acts charged against them by the defendants are true, they will be judged in a court of law, but the lawsuit is not against them as individuals, but as agents of the St. Francis Indian Mission.

I know some of the defendants from St. Francis and I was literally shocked to read some of the allegations against them. I wrote many years ago that the Catholic Church had to issue an apology to all of the boys and girls mistreated at the Indian mission boarding schools since the late 1800s. Not only did the Church need to apologize, it had to find a way to begin healing the wounds of those survivors of the boarding school system.

The Catholic Church needs to begin that process of healing. When I visited the Holy Rosary Mission School on the Pine Ridge Reservation recently, a school where I spent 10 years of my life, I discovered that the leadership of HRM, or Red Cloud, as it is now called, is still in denial. They refuse to admit to or face the charges of abuse made by me and by many other former students. Will it take a similar lawsuit to wake them up? In the meantime, I will follow the case as it proceeds and keep you up to date on its progress.

If you want to know a little bit more about the history of the Indian mission boarding schools you can get my new book on the subject. It is titled, �Children Left Behind� and it can be ordered at Clear Light Publishing, 823 Don Diego, Santa Fe, NM, or by emailing harmon@clearlightbooks.com.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago�s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, �Children Left Behind�)

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