Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

April 28, 2011

Jesuit abuse of Indian children settled with monumental award

By B.L. Azure

Blaine 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)
Blaine 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.

"It 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 shame."

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.

Ken 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 photo)
Ken 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 photo)

"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."

Former Catholic priest, John Shuster said he left the Catholic Church after witnessing the lack of punishment of pedophile priests. (B.L. Azure photo)
Former Catholic priest, John Shuster said he left the Catholic Church after witnessing the lack of punishment of pedophile priests. (B.L. Azure photo)

"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 spirit."

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 restore self-esteem."

"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."

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