Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ending decade of litigation, tribe and Catholic school reach settlement over exploitation suit

A settlement agreement has been reached between the Northern Cheyenne and St. Labre Indian School that could end a decadelong court battle over allegations that the Catholic mission school reaped millions in fundraising dollars by exploiting the tribe.

The parties agreed to settle last month during a Dec. 2 hearing in Yellowstone County Court before District Judge Mary Jane Knisely, court records show. The agreement has not yet been finalized, records indicate.

Attorneys representing the parties either declined to comment or did not return calls this week.

The civil suit, filed in 2005, accuses the school, the Roman Catholic Church and the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings of "unjust enrichment" for marketing the tribe's poverty through lucrative fundraising efforts, then failing to share its gains with the Northern Cheyenne people.

The tribe had also alleged that the school and church committed fraud, breach of contract and cultural genocide.

Officials for the school and church have fiercely denied the allegations, according to court documents and earlier media reports.

At one point, a different Yellowstone County district judge dismissed the suit, saying the tribe had failed to produce any evidence suggesting wrongdoing by the school.
The tribe appealed, and in 2013 the Montana Supreme Court reversed parts of the lower ruling, which revived the suit in district court.


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