Second Round of Suits Allege Abuse at Indian Boarding Schools in S.D.

By Chet Brokaw
Associated Press, carried in The Daily Republic
July 14, 2004

PIERRE - Former students who allege they were abused at Indian boarding schools in South Dakota are suing the Roman Catholic Church and the religious organizations that ran the schools.

The lawsuits, which seek damages for students allegedly hurt at St. Paul's School in Marty and St. Francis Mission School on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, will be filed in state circuit courts Tuesday in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, said Gary Frischer, a legal consultant in the cases.

Many of the same former students are plaintiffs in a similar lawsuit filed last year against the federal government. That lawsuit contends that the federal government failed in its duty under treaties to protect the Indian students who were sent to boarding schools across the nation.

The lawsuits to be filed Tuesday seek damages from the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls and the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City in addition to organizations that provided priests and nuns to work in the schools, which were transferred to tribal control about three decades ago.

The lawsuits allege that the religious organizations were negligent in hiring, retaining and supervising staff at the schools. They also argue the organizations failed to protect students from abuse or investigate misconduct at the schools.

Jerry Klein, chancellor of the Sioux Falls diocese, said he could not respond until he had seen the actual lawsuit.

"It's difficult to respond very specifically when we haven seen what's really being claimed," Klein said. "We'll take a look at it as we're able to, and try to respond appropriately."

Sharon Zeller, communications director of the Rapid City diocese, said she also would not comment until church officials have seen the lawsuit.

The lawsuit involving the St. Francis Mission School was filed by 16 former students, while the lawsuit dealing with St. Paul's in Marty was filed by 57 former students.

"All of the Plaintiffs were beaten and tortured, including physical, mental and emotional abuse. Many of the children were sexually assaulted and raped," according to both lawsuits.

Boarding schools for Indian students were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s in an attempt to assimilate young Indians into white society. The schools were closed or transferred to tribal control by the 1970s.

The lawsuits contend that students at the boarding schools were beaten if they spoke their native language or practiced any element of their native culture. Students involved in the lawsuits have said they were beaten or sexually molested while attending the schools.

The lawsuit involving the St. Paul's School in Marty names the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls; Blue Cloud Abbey of northeastern South Dakota; Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, based in Pennsylvania; and Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament of Marty.

The lawsuit regarding the St. Francis school names the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City; the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus; the Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity of Stella Niagra, N.Y.; and School Sisters of St. Francis.

Frischer, the legal consultant, said some Catholic dioceses across the nation have filed for bankruptcy after being sued for alleged abuse. He said even if the South Dakota dioceses declare bankruptcy, the former boarding school students will have a chance to recover damages from the federal government in the lawsuit filed last year in federal court.

The federal lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., contends the government failed to live up to the terms of the treaties dating to the 1800s that required federal officials to protect the Sioux from "bad men among the whites."

Those involved in the lawsuits have said some of the monetary damages being sought should be used to set up healing centers for former students.


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