There is a lady of the Yupik Tribe in Alaska that is a hero of mine. For many years she was known only as Jane Doe 1 in an effort by her lawyer, Ken Roosa, to protect her true identity.
But this courageous lady that was sexually abused by a Jesuit priest named Father Jim Poole from the age of 10 until the age of 16 decided that she needed to step forward and reveal her true identity so that people would see that she was a real person and perhaps it would encourage other Native children to come forward with their own stories of abuse.
Elsie Boudreau decided to bring a lawsuit against Poole after her complaints to the church hierarchy fell on deaf ears. She accused Poole of kissing and fondling her many times starting in 1978. The abuse included heavy petting and having her lie on top of him the lawsuit said.
Father Poole, now 82, is living in a Jesuit retirement center in Spokane, WA. He arrived in Alaska in 1948 as a seminarian. He was assigned to Holy Cross, Pilot Station, Marshall, Mountain Village, St. Mary's, Barrow and Nome according to the Daily News - Miner in Alaska.
Father Poole founded radio station KNOM in Nome, the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese, and the Society of Jesus Oregon Province. His works of good are now overshadowed by the charges of abuse filed against him.
A second lawsuit against Poole was filed in June of 2005 by Jane Doe 2 an indigenous female. This complaint alleges that Poole sexually abused her for 8 years beginning when she was 12. The complaint states that Poole impregnated Jane Doe 2 at age 14 and then told her to "get rid of the baby" and to blame the pregnancy on her dad.
I was always surprised whenever I spoke about the abuse of Indian children by Catholic priests and nuns by how often people that came up to speak to me after my talk were from Alaska or Canada. It seems that the abusers in those two regions were not as adept at covering up their crimes as were the priests and nuns of the lower 48, or maybe it was because the American people in the lower 48 just plain refused to accept the idea that a priest or member of the clergy could sexually, mentally and physically abuse Native American children.
Elsie Boudreau reached the point in her life where the abuse was taking a toll on her. Her own child was just about to turn 10 years of age and Elsie could not erase from her mind that Father Poole started to abuse her when she was 10.
She knew that many more children had been abused by Father Poole and she often wondered how many other missionaries were out there in the wilds of Alaska abusing other Native children.
When she took her stand against Poole it took all of the courage she could muster. She knew that she would be putting her own life out there to be scrutinized and dissected by the media. She could have hidden behind the anonymity of Jane Doe 1 indefinitely, but she knew that in order to bring the full focus of the media on her actions and to encourage other Alaskan Native children to step forward, the needed to know that there was a real person behind the accusations of the lawsuit. Unfortunately, it seems that the mass media didn't give a damn.
Elsie Boudreau won a settlement in the range of $1 million. She said, "Just getting the settlement doesn't mean it is over in terms of healing. There's other work to be done. It's not over."
Last year when I spoke in Albuquerque, NM about my book, Children Left Behind, a book about the abuse of Indian children by the Catholic clerics in South Dakota, Elsie Boudreau was in the audience. She came up to speak to me later and I was very impressed with this quiet, but strong Yupik lady.
Elsie wants to build a memorial near St. Mary's on the Andreafsky River in Alaska for the children who lost their innocence to sexual abuse by priests and clerics. She envisions it as a contemplative, quiet setting where the abused can find peace. But she wants to do more than that. She wants to reach out to the Native children of the lower 48 states that have endured the same kind of abuse at the hands of the missionaries.
When the sexual abuse of white children by the Catholic priests came out in the open, it was big news in all of the major newspapers in America. Indian children have been victims of this same abuse since the mid-1800s and when I revealed it more than 30 years ago it was definitely non-news to this nation's media.
I applaud Elsie Boudreau. She is an unselfish lady who put her life and reputation on the line in order to seek justice for the Native children that have endured more than 100 years of abuse by the missionaries and teachers that were supposed to help them, but instead hurt them. Elsie is my hero and I would like to work with her to open more doors for the Indian children that have been abused by the church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at email@example.com