indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Indian Law Online Master Degree
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Judge dismisses $25B BIA boarding school suit
Monday, November 8, 2004

A federal judge has dismissed a $25 billion lawsuit alleging sexual, physical and mental abuse at boarding schools formerly overseen the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A group of former boarding school students filed the case earlier this year in the U.S. Court of Claims. They said the federal government violated the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie by allowing "Bad Men" to come onto the reservation and abuse them.

But in a 19-page decision, Judge Diane Gilbert Sypolt said the plaintiffs didn't follow an arcane procedure set out in the treaties regarding the "Bad Men." The former students should have first asked the BIA to hear and adjudicate the case before coming to the courts, she wrote.

"Having failed to bring their claims administratively, plaintiffs are barred from seeking relief from this court," she wrote in the unpublished October 29 opinion that granted the Department of Justice's motion to dismiss.

Sypolt also said the former students could not rely on the treaties to establish a trust relationship that gives rise to money damages if breached. She said the "physical, sexual, and physiological abuse claimed by the plaintiffs in this case, even if true" is beyond the limited authority of the claims court.

The case was filed by six members of the Sioux Nation from South Dakota. They sought class action status on behalf of all former boarding school students who suffered abuse at the institutions, which were overseen by the BIA but managed by local Christian denominations.

The claim centered on language in the 1868 peace treaty signed by the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribes of the Sioux Nation, as well as by other tribes. "If bad men among the whites, or among people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made ... reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained," the treaty states.

The language was common in treaties signed by other Indian nations in the late 1800s. But the BIA never appears to have created regulations to deal with "Bad Men" cases, as was required by treaties.

Sypolt acknowledged this fact but pointed to a small handful of claims where tribal members who felt wronged by outsiders went to the agency for financial redress. Only one of those cases, however, involving a man who was shot to death by a BIA officer, resulted in money being awarded under the "Bad Men" language.

The administrative handling of "Bad Men" claims is crucial because the treaty requires "proof made" to the BIA. That never happened in the abuse case, Sypolt said.

Herman & Mermelstein, the Florida-based law firm that filed the claim, did not return repeated requests for comment. The BIA also did not comment. The schools the plaintiffs attended in South Dakota are no longer under the BIA's jurisdiction but any damages awarded would come from the federal government.

The same law firm filed lawsuits against the churches that ran the schools, according to a July story published by the Associated Press. The suit seeks damages from the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City and other organizations that provided staff for the St. Paul's School and St. Francis Mission School. The case was filed in state court, the AP reported.

The plaintiffs could seek to reinstate the $25 billion case by going to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. In the past four years, the appeals court has favored tribes in trust-related cases, overturning negative decisions issued by the Court of Claims.

A similar suit was filed in Canada on behalf of Native students who suffered abuse at residential schools overseen by the government but managed by churches. Some cases have resulted in financial awards for victims but the overwhelming majority remain mired in a settlement process that has cost the government $78 million (Canadian) but which has paid little to the survivors.

Allegations of abuse and mistreatment at BIA schools have been widely accepted, even by government officials. Former assistant Kevin Gover, who ran the agency during the last three years of the Clinton administration, offered an apology for the transgressions in September 2000.

"This agency forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were," he said. "Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually."

Earlier this year, Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, introduced a resolution to apologize for "official depredations and ill-conceived policies" towards Native peoples. The apology cited "the forcible removal of Native children from their families to faraway boarding schools where their Native practices and languages were degraded and forbidden."

Although backed by Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and other lawmakers, the resolution did not get approval this year.

Get the Decision:
Zephier v. United States (October 29, 2004)

Related Stories:
Canada slow to compensate Native abuse victims (11/5)
Canada wants abuse victim to return settlement (09/17)
Anderson eyes changes in BIA school system (07/23)
South Dakota Indians sue churches over abuse (07/13)
Suit alleges abuse at Indian boarding schools (7/2)
Apology resolution faces additional delays under Bush (06/22)
High-profile bills delayed by Senate committee (6/17)
Consideration of U.S. apology resolution delayed (05/20)
Apology from U.S. requested by Kansas Senator (5/19)
Tim Giago: Abuse suit lawyers are questionable (05/15)
Indian boarding school abuse suit seeks $25B (4/14)

Copyright 2000-2005 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Choctaw Nation Trial:
Choctaw Nation releases statement after guilty verdict in case (11/21)
Former Choctaw Nation employee found guilty after lengthy trial (11/21)
Trial on Choctaw Nation fraud winds down with final testimony (11/21)
Leader of Choctaw Nation faces tough questions in fraud trial (11/21)
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux youth to join White House meet (11/21)
Obamas welcome youth from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to DC (11/21)
House passes bill to address Grand Portage Band per capitas (11/21)
House Natural Resources Committee passes three tribal bills (11/21)
Chaske Spencer: Changing the narrative for our Native youth (11/21)
Winona LaDuke: No one believes in the 'black snake' pipeline (11/21)
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Tax disparities remain in Indian Country (11/21)
ICT interview with DOI deputy secretary on Cobell buy-backs (11/21)
Oglala Sioux Tribe rounds up dogs after deadly attack on girl (11/21)
Leader of Navajo Nation signs bill for higher tax on junk food (11/21)
North Dakota tribe in negotiations for pipeline to curb flaring (11/21)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe passes language to new generation (11/21)
Little Traverse Bay Bands swear in interim leader after recall (11/21)
Blog: Play-by-play of election controversy on Navajo Nation (11/21)
Column: Theories link Thanksgiving to 1637 Pequot massacre (11/21)
Editorial: Work with Burns Paiute Tribe on land-into-trust bid (11/21)
Ex-employee of Passamaquoddy Tribe admits to drug charge (11/21)
BIA publishes notice of Karuk Tribe Class III gaming compact (11/21)
Oklahoma reports drop in gaming exclusivity fees from tribes (11/21)
Pala Band gears up for official launch of Internet gaming site (11/21)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux woman shot and killed by police (11/20)
Mark Trahant: Lakota honor song wasn't out of place in Senate (11/20)
Dog attack blamed for death of eight-year-old girl at Pine Ridge (11/20)
DOI issues status report on Cobell land consolidation program (11/20)
Greg Grey Cloud explains Lakota honor song after Senate vote (11/20)
Steven Newcomb: Disestablishing the doctrines of domination (11/20)
Sen. Mark Begich: Moving forward for the first people of Alaska (11/20)
Bill Richardson: Indian Country feels effects of climate change (11/20)
Smithsonian: Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 won't be forgotten (11/20)
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe sues South Dakota over sales tax (11/20)
Morongo Band distributes 10K turkeys for Thanksgiving meals (11/20)
GAO report looks at tribal implementation of Adam Walsh Act (11/20)
FBI opens background check database to tribal law agencies (11/20)
Survey shows most Americans wouldn't use R-word in person (11/20)
USDA Blog: Youth from Angoon Tribe carry on their traditions (11/20)
Editorial: County and critics must stop fighting Chumash Tribe (11/20)
Editorial: Oklahoma Indian museum benefits the entire state (11/20)
Muscogee Nation finally starts work on $365M gaming project (11/20)
Two tribes making push for off-reservation casino in California (11/20)
Mashantucket Tribe hires new executive for gaming operation (11/20)
Opinion: Catawba Nation makes a sneak attack with casino bid (11/20)
Opinion: Poarch Creek gaming deal won't help state's economy (11/20)
Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne activists push for change (11/19)
Mark Trahant: Historic election in Alaska with Native candidate (11/19)
Audio: Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on child trauma (11/19)
Republicans hold up action on Alaska tribal jurisdiction measure (11/19)
DOI official to give update on Cobell land consolidation program (11/19)
Center for Native American Youth hosts panel discussion in DC (11/19)
Sen. Heitkamp to host panel on child trauma in Indian Country (11/19)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.