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Three Blackfeet Nation Members Sue Indian Health Service

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Indian Health Service

Three Blackfeet Nation members have filed a civil lawsuit arguing the Indian Health Service violated their treaty rights when it allegedly failed to prevent a former IHS doctor from abusing them. 

This is the first civil lawsuit surrounding the Stanely Patrick Weber case. Weber was convicted of sexually assaulting boys on the Blackfeet reservation in 2018 and on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in September.

Peter Janci is among the attorneys representing the three unnamed plaintiffs in the civil suit filed Wednesday in Federal Claims Court.

“They were patients of Dr. Weber’s through the Indian Health Service and they were each sexually abused by Dr. Weber in the course of that relationship,” Janci said.

All three plaintiffs are Blackfeet Nation members now in their 30s who say Weber abused them as children in the early 1990s. Weber was convicted of abusing one of the plaintiffs.

Janci says the plaintiffs’ rights under the U.S. Government’s 1855 treaty with the Blackfeet Tribe were violated when IHS allegedly ignored warning signs about Weber’s abuse on the reservation.

“They specifically agreed that they would protect Blackfeet Nation Members from depredations and other unlawful acts committed by white men residing on the reservation. That’s the language in the treaty,” Janci said.

Janci says court precedent supports their case and while it’s hard to put a price on his clients’ suffering, they’re seeking $9 million in compensation. “I think the scientific literature is pretty clear that victims don’t get over child sexual abuse. This is something that stays with people for the rest of their lives,” Janci said.

IHS declined to specifically comment on the litigation, but issued a general statement saying the agency is working to revise its policies and procedures to “ensure a safe environment for patients.” However, a recent Inspector General report found that the implementation of the agency’s new policies on reporting and preventing sexual abuse have fallen short.

Aaron Bolton is Montana Public Radio's Flathead Valley reporter.
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