Senators: Indian Hearings Show Need for Major Overhaul of BIA
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senators say the Bureau of Indian Affairs is in for a major overhaul after an initial series of hearings detailed contract fraud, Mafia infiltration and child sexual abuse on reservations.
Senators heard emotional testimony Thursday from Hopi Indian mothers who say their children were sexually abused at reservation schools.
Five mothers, some near tears, told of teachers and relatives who had molested children, and their desperation to find counselors who could help them and their young ones deal with the trauma.
The testimony came as two weeks of hearings wrapped up before a special unit of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. The hearings, which also detailed fraud in the government’s Indian-preference contract program and mob influence on reservation gambling operations, are to resume Feb. 21.
But senators said they have heard enough already to decide that the BIA is in need of major changes, and that more funding is needed to help Indians victimized by the problems on the reservations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., assured the mothers who testified Thursday that more money will be provided for counseling centers to combat the child abuse problem. ″We’ll get the funding,″ he said.
The mothers told of the case of John Boone, a former teacher and coach at Pollaca Day School, which is operated by the BIA on the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona.
Boone molested 142 to 144 boys over nine years, said a mother who identified herself as Sylvia. He now is serving a prison term after pleading guilty to sex offenses on the reservation, said Mary Lou Soller, an attorney for the committee.
Debra, whose son was one of Boone’s victims, said she reported Boone to the school principal in 1986 after her son came home and said he’d taken a shower with the teacher in the teacher’s home.
She said the principal got angry with her and took no action.
″I was devastated,″ she said.
Debra said that to no avail she forbade her sons from going to Boone’s house, and on one occasion sent her daughter to retrieve them.
The daughter told her she saw Boone ″wrestling around″ with one of the boys and stole a ″sex book″ from Boone’s house that had photos and definitions of sex terms.
This time, about a year after the first incident, Debra went to the tribal investigator and later the FBI arrested Boone.
During the investigation, agents found a list Boone kept of boys and the kinds of relations he had had with them, said Sylvia.
Another mother, Mary, told of seeing a teacher fondling a little girl at the Hoteville Bacavi School, a non-BIA school on the reservation. She said she complained and the teacher was dismissed, but no other action was taken and he is now teaching in New Mexico.
Last May, as a result of the Boone incident, the federal government set up a child sex abuse center on the reservation to provide counseling, but the center is understaffed and 38 people are on its waiting list, said Sylvia.
She said some of the boys who were abused by Boone are now young men who are becoming abusers themselves.
Funding for the center is due to expire this May, but McCain assured that it would not.
″Don’t tell me they (the BIA) don’t have the money to go into an area where 142 kids have been abused for nine years,″ he said.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., chairman of the special committee, said the BIA could expect some major changes as the result of the hearings.
When asked after the hearing if the BIA needed an overhaul, DeConcini responded: ″It’s pretty clear it does.″