Jesuit abuse of Indian children settled with monumental award
By B.L. Azure
Tamaki, lead attorney in the Catholic Jesuit settlement for sexual
abuse of Indian children, was the keynote speaker at the Hope
Conference in Missoula. (B.L. Azure photo)
MISSOULA — The Society of Jesus Pacific Northwest recently agreed to
pay $1.66.1 million to approximately 500 American Indian people who
were sexually and psychologically abused as children by Jesuit priests
from the 1940s into the 1990s.
According to lead attorney in the suit against the Jesuits,
Blaine Tamaki of Tamaki Law, Yakima, Wash., the settlement amount was
the largest monetary settlement between abuse victims and a religious
order in American history.
Tamaki was in Missoula recently as a keynote speaker for the
HOPE Seeking the Courage to Heal conference. The second annual HOPE
conference focused on childhood sexual trauma in Indian Country.
is the highest settlement of any kind against the Jesuits," Tamaki
said. "Indian children from five year olds on up were trapped in these
Jesuit schools and systematically molested by Jesuit priests. They were
beaten, starved, stripped, fondled, raped and many were sodomized.
Instead of teaching these children the love of god and how to read and
write, Jesuit priests were teaching them distrust, indignity and
The Society of Jesus (Jesuit), currently in a Portland,
Oregon bankruptcy court, and its insurers will pay the settlement
award. The Jesuit Pacific Northwest Province that includes Montana,
Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Alaska will pay $48.1 million and their
insurers will pay $118 million of the award.
Bear Chief, paralegal with the Tamaki law firm, told folks at the Hope
Conference that the recent monetary settlement against the Jesuit order
was the highest settlement of any kind against the order. (B.L. Azure
"They were able to get away with sex abuse of children without any
consequences until a few of the Native American adults had the courage
to point the finger and speak out the words: 'I was molested by a
priest,'" Tamaki said. "It takes a lot of courage and conviction to
speak the unspeakable, to overcome the shame."
The Jesuit Pacific Northwest Province filed for bankruptcy in
February 2009 after Tamaki Law filed 21 federal lawsuits against the
Jesuits in the state of Washington.
Tamaki said the issue is a racist disgrace for many reasons but
perhaps the most nefarious was that low-end priests or those accused
with pedophilia were shuttled off to Indian boarding schools.
"At first I told Ken (Bear Chief) not use the word holocaust
when describing what happened to the Indian people at the hands of the
Jesuits," Tamaki said. "I told him that applied only to the Jewish
people but he taught me different. This is part of the genocide, part
of the holocaust of the Indian people. When you take Indian peoples'
children and put them in boarding schools to strip them of their
culture, their language and their beliefs, you destroy the Indian
people. The only hope for change is that victims speak out. Don't
chastise them; they are heroes."
Catholic priest, John Shuster said he left the Catholic Church after
witnessing the lack of punishment of pedophile priests. (B.L. Azure
"There is no race of people in the history of the world that have
suffered genocide on the scale of Indian people," said Ken Bear Chief,
Tamaki Law investigator and victim liaison. "The residential schools
were the last tool of genocide. It enabled the taking of kids from
their families with the purpose to control then break the Indian
Bear Chief interviewed more than 300 Indian people about
alleged abuse by Jesuits. Most of the abuse victims during the 1950s to
the early 1970s attended Catholic mission schools in DeSmet, Idaho and
St. Ignatius, Hays and Ashland, Montana.
"I was the first
person that they ever told about the abuse and trauma they suffered at
the hands of the Jesuits," Bear Chief said. "I want them to have some
sense of justice. The only thing we can do that is through monetary
compensation. I know people still suffer emotionally with this. They
try to escape through drugs and alcohol. Our goal is to heal and
"We faced a very powerful Jesuit
stonewall in this process," Tamaki said. "It was sweet to pry that
money from their sweaty hands."
In a written statement, the Rev. Patrick Lee, Provincial
superior of the Jesuit Oregon Province, said, "The province continues
to work with the creditors committee to conclude the bankruptcy process
as promptly as possible."