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Native Americans sue state, allege abuse at Jesuit school

Pictured are three of the plaintiffs in the suit, from left to right: Katherine Mendez, Dwayne Paul and Theresa Bisset.
Paula Wissel
Pictured are three of the plaintiffs in the suit, from left to right: Katherine Mendez, Dwayne Paul and Theresa Bisset.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Eight Native Americans have filed suit against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, claiming the agency placed them in a mission school where they were sexually abused by a Jesuit priest decades ago.

Attorney Blaine Tamaki said Tuesday the plaintiffs were wards of the state when it failed to ensure their safety.

John Wiley, spokesman for DSHS, said the department are not commenting on the suit "because we haven't seen it yet." He added that when they do respond, it will be in a court filing.

The complaint centers on allegations against the Rev. John Morse at St. Mary's Mission School in Omak. Morse has denied the allegations. Tamaki says Morse was never charged with a crime.

One of the plaintiffs, Dwayne Paul, said that at the time he tried to tell a state social worker what was happening:

“She said everything is gonna be all right and at one time she told me that I shouldn’t be making up stories. She wouldn’t ask me what was happening when I told her there were bad things happening there at St. Mary’s mission. I mean who’s gonna believe a little kid,” Paul said.

John Wiley, spokesman for the health services department, says his agency hasn't seen the lawsuit yet.

On the impact of the abuse on her life, plaintiff Katherine Mendez said she felt “robbed and left and empty shell."

"… and I was just full of dysfunction all my life because of what happened to me. I will always feel that I was cheated. I feel sorry that there’s no way of ever going back to fix it, to make it right,” Mendez said.

In March, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to pay $166 million to hundreds of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives who were abused at its schools in the Pacific Northwest.

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Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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