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Indian Agency Ignored Sexual Abuse Claims, Parents Say

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Washington--Officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service failed to respond adequately to the apparently widespread incidence of sexual abuse of children by reservation-school teachers and community members, according to witnesses appearing at a Senate hearing last week.

In emotional testimony, five Hopi Indian mothers told the panel how their children had been abused and criticized the agencies for failing to provide needed counseling and other forms of support.

The hearing was a part of a larger investigation--led by Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini of Arizona--into allegations of fraud and other abuses both in the bia and on the reservations.

The special investigative panel's lengthy inquiry has uncovered many cases of the sexual abuse of Indian children in schools, Senator McCain said.

"During this investigation we have heard stories across the country--from Arizona to North Carolina--of parents whose children have been abused in b.i.a. schools," he said. "Many of these parents attempted to report these cases to fed4eral officials, but were met with stone walls."

Although the hearing last week focused on the bia's alleged failure to offer support to sexual-abuse victims, witnesses at field hearings held in recent months also have faulted the agency for failing to screen teachers and establish safeguards to ensure that sexual abuse did not occur in its schools.

Abuse Victims

Children of two of the witnesses had been sexually abused by John W. Boone, who taught remedial English at a bia school in Polacca, Ariz., for nine years.

In May 1987, Mr. Boone was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for sodomizing an 11-year-old Hopi boy. During the course of the investigation, federal agents found a chart on which Mr. Boone had recorded that he had had sexual relations with or taken nude photos of 142 Indian boys.

One mother said she reported to school officials in 1986 that her son had told her he had taken a shower with Mr. Boone at his house.

But the bia employees took no action on her complaint, she asserted. A year later, she reported her suspicions again, this time to a b.i.a. investigator, who called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Many of the abuse victims have suffered severe school and personal problems, said the witnesses, whose names were not revealed. But no professional counseling was made available for the students, they claimed, until six months after Mr. Boone's arrest.

Two counselors hired by the U.S. Attorney's office in Albuquerque, N.M., have visited the Hopi reservation since November 1987, according to the testimony.

Even so, the mothers said, some 30 people in their community still have not received needed help. Nor has either of the federal agencies offered any financial assistance for counseling services, they reported.

Official 'Denial' Alleged

The witnesses also contended that b.i.a. officials engaged in "denial" when they were asked to help the children and the community to deal with the effects of the abuse. The b.i.a.'s education department in Washington has not contacted them about the case, the mothers alleged.

"We have been outraged at both departments," said one mother. "The whole community has been traumatized by this, and we have been victimized over and over again because of no help."

Because of the lack of counseling, "some" of Boone's victims have now become sexual offenders themselves, the witnesses said.

Abuse on Other Reservations

Members of the Senate panel stressed that the incidents on the Hopi reservation are not isolated. Officials of the surrounding Navajo reservation have reported five cases in the last two years in which school officials have been charged with molesting a total of 42 boys and girls.

The mothers also noted that there are increasing numbers of cases involving abuse of Indian children by family members and others not associated with b.i.a. schools.

Senator Thomas A. Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, noted that b.i.a. officials have testified that they plan to request $3 million to hire counselors for all the reservations in the country.

However, the mothers said that that amount would not be enough to meet the growing need.

Two more days of hearings on the topic have been scheduled for next week. B.i.a. officials are expected to respond at that time.

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