indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
The Rise of Tribes and the Fall of Federal Indian Law
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to bring their claims administratively, plaintiffs are barred from seeking relief from this court," she wrote in the unpublished October 29 opinion that granted the Department of Justice's motion to dismiss.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:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
First Lady Michelle Obama shares story of hope with Indian school (5/26)
Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama at Santa Fe Indian School (5/26)
Gary Davis of NCAIED joins Small Business Administration council (5/26)
Arne Vainio: A mother's gift carried me through many life journeys (5/26)
Native Sun News: Tribes score big in fights against energy projects (5/26)
Lakota Country Times: Education Secretary hears from Pine Ridge (5/26)
Ivan Star Comes Out: Ending Whiteclay beer sales starts at home (5/26)
Vi Waln: Rosebud Sioux youth lead efforts to bring relatives home (5/26)
Gyasi Ross: Drug epidemic sweeping through Native communities (5/26)
Jacqueline Keeler: Shameful and skewed poll on racist NFL name (5/26)
Interview with Melvin Monette about Cobell scholarship program (5/26)
Auction house in France won't stop sale of sacred tribal property (5/26)
United Keetoowah Band installs new leader after impeachment (5/26)
Kewa Pueblo builds new community around historic trading post (5/26)
Eastern Cherokee elder translates 'Charlotte's Web' into Tsalagi (5/26)
Puyallup Tribe works to keep language alive for new generations (5/26)
Iowa Tribe offers free play on poker website ahead of full launch (5/26)
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe offers gaming options closer to home (5/26)
Kaw Nation receives national award for tribal gaming initiatives (5/26)
Indian Health Service reform efforts gaining steam on Capitol Hill (5/25)
Indian Health Service announces more hires at troubled hospital (5/25)
Keepseagle attorneys open application process for $38M in grants (5/25)
Three tribes enter cooperative agreements for buy-back program (5/25)
New leader selected for HUD's Office of Native American Programs (5/25)
Indian relay racers gear up for event hosted by Muckleshoot Tribe (5/25)
Cronkite News: Tribes seek return of property up for sale in France (5/25)
Native Sun News: Anti-suicide effort incorporates tribal traditions (5/25)
Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge youth showcase film projects (5/25)
Mark Trahant: Native vote victory for Tawna Sanchez in Oregon (5/25)
Brandon Ecoffey: Lakota people come together in times of need (5/25)
Editorial: Tribes must come up with plan for return of Black Hills (5/25)
John McCoy: Disenrollment and blood quantum are not our way (5/25)
Adrian Jawort: Addressing race relations and healing in Montana (5/25)
Fort Peck Tribes oppose new directive on transgender students (5/25)
Leader of United Keetoowah Band ousted through impeachment (5/25)
Agua Caliente Band launches software development company (5/25)
Sen. Barrasso to chair platform committee for GOP convention (5/25)
Cowlitz Tribe welcomes discussions with opponent over casino (5/25)
Little Traverse Bay Bands open doors to Class II gaming facility (5/25)
Tuolumne Band celebrates 15th birthday with casino expansion (5/25)
Former Winnebago Tribe casino employee denies theft charge (5/25)
Proposed rule brings LGBT equality to tribal housing programs (5/24)
Chairman of Quapaw Tribe endorses Democrat Hillary Clinton (5/24)
Appropriations bill blocks new federal recognition regulation (5/24)
Native American Children's Safety Act clears final Hill hurdle (5/24)
9th Circuit won't rehear Tohono O'odham Nation gaming case (5/24)
Lakota Country Times: Army promises return of tribal children (5/24)
Native Sun News: New business sprouts up at Wounded Knee (5/24)
Mark Trahant: Tulalip citizen lands role in Democratic platform (5/24)
Brandon Ecoffey: Pine Ridge unites for search of missing men (5/24)
Men who went missing found dead on Pine Ridge Reservation (5/24)
Billy Mills: Flawed poll can't justify use of team's racist mascot (5/24)
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.