In January, Indian Country Today Media Network reported that a Yakima, Washington–based law firm had filed a 12-page legal complaint on behalf of a Northern Cheyenne tribal member seeking justice for years of abuse she suffered as a child at Montana’s St. Labre Indian School in the 1950s and 1960s. The case is a significant one, as the accused is Father Emmett Hoffmann, a near-legendary figure on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.
In recent weeks, the case has become even bigger. According to an amended, 19-page version of the legal complaint filed on June 6 in Montana’s Eighth Judicial District Court, priests and nuns misused their authority to “molest, exploit and abuse children” across eastern Montana. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis are now named in the complaint, and 10 additional male and female victims have joined the original Jane Doe in filing suit against the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.
“At the beginning, I called this the tip of the iceberg,” says Blaine Tamaki, founder of Tamaki Law and a practicing trial lawyer for three decades, who is the lead attorney on this suit. “Now, we are beginning to see just how big that iceberg is.
“From the outset, our extensive experience suggested that pedophiles usually do not limit their victims to just one. They prey on vulnerable children. The more powerful the pedophile, the more access they have to children, and the more likely it is their victims will suffer in silence.”
Priests and nuns, he notes, are particularly powerful, since they are blessed and appointed by the church. And at mission boarding schools and orphan...