ST. IGNATIUS — The recent $166.1 million settlement for people who were sexually abused in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations and Alaskan villages made international headlines.
But in St. Ignatius, where so much of the abuse occurred, the silence surrounding the case is as cold and deep as the stubbornly lingering snow on the Mission Mountains.
That’s partly a measure of time: The settlement plan covers a half-century of abuse. What’s news to the larger world is business as depressingly usual to people who’ve been living with the effects of that abuse for decades, said Jera Stewart, clinical supervisor and neuropsychologist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
It’s partly a measure of legality: The 500 claimants involved in the settlement must vote to approve it and the votes won’t be tallied until July. Until then, said the Rev. Andrew Maddock of the St. Ignatius Church, he can’t address the issue specifically with parishioners. “I’ve just talked about (the fact) that we need to heal.”
And it’s partly an unfathomable measure of pain: “You’re talking about layers of trauma that happened over generations,” said Salish educator Julie Cajune.
Genocide. Dislocation. Cultural obliteration. Children kidnapped into boarding schools. And, as is now being widely revealed, the extensive sexual abuse of those children.
“That this kind of violence happened to children, the worst kind of violence ... ,” Cajune said. “It’s such a horrific thing that people don’t want to talk about it.”
The bankruptcy settlement against the Northwest Jesuits will — if approved — do everything possible to make sure that the 500-some claimants can get help for many years hence without having to talk publicly about it, even as the religious order takes public responsibility.
About $6.5 million of the $166.1 million paid by the Jesuits and their insurers would be set aside to fund future claims, as people continue to come forward about sexual assaults experienced decades ago, said Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law, the Yakima, Wash., firm that represents the largest number of claimants in the Lower 48 states in the Northwest Jesuits case. That money would be available until it ran out.
Still, payments averaging about $300,000 could go to those whose claims already have been verified by adjudicators after the settlement was announced in late March, Smith said. Nearly all of the claimants are Native American or Alaskan Native.
“That significant sum of money is paid to acknowledge wrongdoing,” said Blaine Tamaki. “They are apologizing for their abuse.”
Francis “Franny” Burke, 58, of Elmo, is one of the people represented by Tamaki’s firm.
“Speaking for all the Indian people involved with these priests, we would like an apology. That would be nice,” Burke said. “But something that could really help the Indian people out is to help restore the culture and language.”
As in other boarding schools around Indian Country, the last of which closed in 1968, students in the St. Ignatius school had their hair shorn and were punished if they spoke their own languages or practiced their traditions. The result was generations who feel, as Burke said, lost in an uneasy world between the two cultures.
The settlement doesn’t address that issue. Perhaps it never could. But it does include several provisions designed to provide the accountability and apology many victims say they badly want.
For the next decade, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Northwest Jesuits, must post on its website’s home page the names of all its members verified as perpetrators.
For the next two years, the website must provide a place for victims who want to tell their stories.
The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, who heads the province, will send personally signed letters of apology to all the claimants, stating that the abuse wasn’t their fault, and that the province takes responsibility.
During the next five years, Lee will travel to Anchorage, Seattle, Spokane and other places for private conferences with people who were abused.
The Northwest Jesuits cannot refer to those who were abused as “alleged” claimants, victims or survivors.
And, Lee will post on the website, and place ads in regional publications including the Missoulian, “a statement of gratitude for the survivors of sexual abuse who have had the courage to speak about the sexual abuse they endured and continue to live with every day.”