As an investigator for Tamaki Law Offices
I have been investigating the sexual abuse allegations against the NW Jesuits for the past two years. Since this investigation began I have interviewed more than 100 victims of childhood sexual abuse. Almost all of the victims attended Jesuit Mission Schools that operated on Reservations throughout the Northwest.
The Jesuit Missions where most of these abuses occurred were at St. Mary’s Mission, Omak, WA; Sacred Heart Mission, De’Smet, ID; St. Ignatius, St. Anne, and St. Paul’s - Missions in Montana. However, I am sure these same abuses occurred wherever Jesuit Mission Schools were located.
The news about the sexual abuse of Native Americans has been very limited. Major newspapers have little or no interest in reporting about the sexual abuse committed against Indian children, especially when the majority of the abuses occurred decades ago, as far back as the 1940’s to the mid-1970’s.
I have been deeply affected by hearing the victims’ stories, and witnessing their pain while telling me about what happened. I cannot begin to express how profoundly childhood sexual abuse has affected the lives of the victims.
Not everyone who attended a Jesuit Mission School was a victim of abuse, but for those that were victimized, the life-long affects has taken a toll – failed relationships, trust issues, and suicide. Many of the victims are now in their mid-forties and older, and they have suffered from depression-anxiety, shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger-hostility, alcoholism-substance abuse, low self esteem, behavioral disorders, and other manifestations of childhood sexual abuse all their lives.
It takes courage to come forward and tell someone about abuse that happened so long ago, especially sexual abuse. Most of the victims of abuse have tried for decades to bury those memories, while others simply felt it does no good to talk about the past, and yet others feel that their families would disapprove of them for disclosing what happened.
There are even community barriers preventing abuse victims from coming forward, including disapproval by tribal leaders, elders, and others who do not fully understand this issue, and feel that this reflects poorly upon the community or its church. However, this is not about the Catholic Church, God, or even religion, and it’s not a political issue. It’s about the rights of the victims to seek justice and healing for the abuse committed against them.
I have learned that the first steps toward healing are acceptance by the community that the abuse happened, supporting the rights of the victims, and, if possible, aiding the victims of abuse to cope with the trauma they have suffered over their lifetime. The next step toward healing is to tell someone, and come to terms with what happened. I learned an expression a long time ago, “you’re only as sick as your secrets,” and that is true for the victims of childhood sexual abuse.
I often wonder, “Where is the outrage?” Why is there no information about this in our tribal newspapers? Where are our tribal leaders who should be asking questions about this, or stepping up and addressing this issue? As Indian people we have always depended upon our leaders to talk for us. If they will not recognize this issue and talk about it, who will?
Ironically, White society has often been more sympathetic, vocal, and outraged about the sexual abuse of Indian children and fully supportive of the victims rights to seek civil justice, and healing. In fact, on the Colville Reservation, where the majority of the victims live, off reservation counseling centers have offered to use their funding to pay for counseling victims of childhood sexual abuse, and to refer our clients to other psychologists who specialize in that field of counseling.
If you were a victim of sexual or physical abuse or misconduct at any Jesuit Mission School, church or parish throughout the Northwest, contact an attorney representing victims of abuse now. Time is running out. Remember that you are not alone. Hundreds have come forward seeking justice and are holding their abuser accountable for their wrongful actions to ensure that this type of institutional tragedy is not inflicted on our children again.
Ken Bear Chief, Gros Ventre/Nooksack/Nez Perce
506 D’Anjou Street
Zillah, WA 98953