Report on Abuse of Indian Students Finally Surfaces

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Monday, April 22, 2024
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028
Laura Dumais (202) 792-1277


Report on Abuse of Indian Students Finally Surfaces

Lawsuit Pried Haskell School Probe Out of Bureau of Indian Education


Washington, DC — An investigative report confirming allegations by current and former students and staff of sexual abuse, bullying, and absence of institutional control at a federally-run university for Native American students has finally seen the light of day. Obtained in litigation by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the report also documents non-responsiveness by Interior Department officials to student reports of sexual assaults, physical abuse, and other misconduct by both school officials and students.

Located in Lawrence, Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) is operated by the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). According to the investigative report, numerous student allegations arising from its athletic department relayed to the school president, BIE Director, and even the Assistant Secretary of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs “did not get a response or any indication their issues would be addressed.”

Interior’s Office of Inspector General also declined to look into the students’ complaints and instead recommended that BIE do its own review. BIE assigned four Human Resources staff to form a “Board of Investigation,” which started conducting interviews in June 2022 and produced an Investigative Report dated January 23, 2023.

That report’s scathing assessment of the schools’ response to numerous reports by students of sexual assaults by other students and inappropriate touching by a staff member stated –

  • “HINU staff appear to take minimal actions when students make allegations of sexual assault… Student Services does not believe it is their responsibility to notify law enforcement (Local Police) when a student reports a sexual assault because they are considered adults.”
  • “HINU does not follow-up with victims to check on their well-being after a sexual assault has occurred.”
  • “HINU procedures regarding sexual assault are insufficient and places the safety of the students at risk.”

“This report catalogs a litany of appalling acts of institutional indifference to the welfare of its students by a federal educational institution,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, who first requested a copy of the report a year ago on April 20, 2023. “Even worse, this report has not even been officially acknowledged, let alone prompted the adoption of any reforms.”

In addition to ignoring student reports of bullying, harassment, and blackballing, the report also examined claims about widespread equipment theft but concluded “there is no mechanism in place to track … and no policy requiring athletic gear and equipment to be tracked,” adding that “The Athletic Department is in disarray, has little to no effective processes and procedures and cannot be considered secure if staff aren’t held accountable for security practices.”

Roughly a month after PEER filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for a copy of the report, BIE rejected the request on the grounds that releasing it would violate “the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act, which provides for the confidentiality of informants making reports of abused Indian children.”  PEER promptly appealed that denial on the grounds that the cited statute had nothing to do with the situation at Haskell. After that appeal failed to generate a response, PEER filed a FOIA lawsuit on July 28, 2023 to compel its production.

In November 2023, BIE produced a completely different report and then informed the Assistant U.S. Attorney representing the agency in the FOIA suit that the report PEER sought “is not completed, and therefore is outside of the scope of the request and litigation. We expect that investigation to be completed by January 1, 2024.”

In fact, the requested report had been completed nearly a year earlier. PEER pushed back against BIE’s attempt to switch reports, providing statements from interviewed students that the report BIE had produced was not the investigation in which they had participated, as well as documents showing that the requested report had been received by BIE in January 2023. This month, BIE ended the charade and coughed up the requested report.

“Given the contents of this report, no wonder BIE officialdom went to great lengths to hide it,” added Ruch. “Here the coverup not only compounds the original crime but also points to deep dysfunction within Bureau of Indian Education leadership well beyond Haskell University.”


Read the redacted Investigation Report 

See BIE initial refusal to release the report

View agency attempt to switch reports 

Compare PEER pushback 

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