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Four Native Americans Settle Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Cases

— September 28, 2018

Four Native Americans Settle Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Cases

More than a dozen members of the Navajo Nation and Crow Tribe of Montana have brought allegations of sexual abuse against the Mormon church.  There is speculation that there are many more victims who have yet to come forward.  The first lawsuit was filed by two Navajo siblings in 2016 in tribal court  Others quickly followed and four most recently settled.

Four Native Americans who alleged they were abused while enrolled in the Indian Student Placement Program affiliated with the church, a foster care program, during the 1960s and 1980s have filed paperwork to dismiss their grievances after receiving financial settlements, and three were previously settled in 2017.  Others who came forward also reached settlements out of court.  Just one case remains open.

Craig Vernon, an attorney who represented the four Native Americans who recently settled said the terms of the latest agreements are to be kept confidential.  There has been no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the church.  The cases were filed in Window Rock District Court on the Navajo Nation and centered specifically on the program, which put thousands of Native American children in Mormon foster homes in three states – Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico.  It started in the 1940s and became defunct in 2000.

Four Native Americans Settle Mormon Church Sexual Abuse Cases
Photo by Jonathan Larson on Unsplash

Vernon said his clients had mixed feelings about settling but bringing their cases to federal court would have been a risky choice.  He believed they would have prevailed in tribal court.  The lawsuits sought monetary damages, written apologies, and a guarantee that Mormon church leaders would report any suspected abuse.  The clients received only a financial payout.  There were no apologies or a promise from the church to change its practices.

Those accused of abuse were associated with the host families who cared for the children, not church leaders.  Church attorneys had wanted the cases to be tried in Salt Lake City because there were no allegations of abuse on tribal land, but a federal judge in Utah had denied the request.  A tribal judge said the Navajo court had jurisdiction over the issue due to the fact that the placement initiative was based on the reservation extending into Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico and sought to secure opportunities for those on the reservations.

The student placement program was initially established as a way to provide Native American children with educational opportunities that would not be available to them on the reservations.  The children participated in the program during a time when the Mormon church believed it had a duty to restore the heritage and well-being of American Indians who were referred to as “Lamanites.”  This duty became a conviction of Mormons after they had taken over their land and resources for years, forcing American Indians into starvation and poverty.

The church has since changed the introduction to the Book of Mormon to clarify that Lamanites are among the ancestors of American Indians.  It never gave an official reason for the closing of the voluntary program.  Many believe it became inoperable because other, more attractive resources eventually became available.


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