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New task force will focus on protecting Native American kids in the Indian Health Service

Posted at 11:26 AM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 13:31:19-04

A new presidential task force will focus on protecting Native American children in the Indian Health Service System.

President Donald Trump made the announcement Tuesday morning.

The Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System (IHS) will investigate the institutional and systemic breakdown that failed to prevent a predatory pediatrician from sexually assaulting children while he was a doctor in the IHS.

The announcement follows the Frontline and Wall Street Journal investigation into Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber, a former pediatrician on the Blackfeet Reservation who sexually abused young boys. Weber was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison in January.

A press release states the Task Force’s focus is separate and distinguishable from other investigations into the IHS because the Task Force will not interfere with:

  • the criminal investigation of one particular pediatrician
  • a review underway at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including a review by the Department’s Inspector General, which HHS Secretary Azar ordered earlier this year
  • a review conducted by an outside, independent contractor retained by the Indian health system

The Task Force will examine any systemic problems that may have failed to prevent this doctor’s actions and led to any failures of the Indian Health Service to protect Native American children, according to the press release.

It will also develop recommended policies, protocols, and best practices to protect Native American children and prevent such abuse from happening again.

The Task Force will be comprised of subject-matter experts from several United States government agencies, and co-chaired by Joseph Grogan, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, and the Honorable Trent Shores, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and citizen of the Choctaw Nation.

It will also draw on the expertise of other federal employees and resources and seek perspective and input from tribal leaders and Native American voices, according to a press release.

(February 11, 2019) On Tuesday, the award-winning PBS program Frontline will air “Predator on the Reservation.” It’s a collaboration with the Wall Street Journal that outlines the crimes of Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber, a former pediatrician on the Blackfeet Reservation who was sentenced last month to more than 18 years in prison for sexually abusing young boys.

Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Dan Frosch began their investigation two years ago while reporting on misconduct of medical professionals in the Indian Health Services, or IHS.

Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber arrived in Browning in 1992 to work at the town’s hospital run by Indian Health Services. He made a good first impression and helped expand the hospital’s youth outreach programs.

But not everyone was sold. Back then, Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Tim Davis was working in the hospital’s facilities department. His duties included inspecting government owned housing, including where Weber lived.

“The gentleman had a lot of food items, candy, pop, cookies and toys, games, video games that boys would play with,” said Davis.

Others at the hospital became suspicious as well. They were concerned about an after-hours clinic Weber started where he would see children without a parent or another adult present.

“This is grooming behavior,” said Becky Foster, a former IHS Mental Health Specialist. “So you take kids who are high risk, who are from difficult family circumstances and who are poor. And you offer them new clothes and you offer them food and you offer them a home where the lights are on all the time and a child will gravitate toward that.”

After his time in Browning, Weber was transferred to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where another doctor became concerned about his behavior. When he shared those concerns with Becky Foster and her husband Mark, a former IHS psychologist, anger and frustration set in.

“It says to me as an Indian woman, as a mother, is that your kids don’t matter,” said Becky Foster.

As allegations mounted, Dr. Weber was suspended. One of the people who investigated Weber was one of his superiors, Ron Keats, who would leave the agency and later be convicted of possession of child pornography.

According to the former CEO of the Pine Ridge IHS hospital, Weber was later cleared of any misconduct and allowed to return to work.

Weber was ultimately charged with abusing four boys on the Pine Ridge Reservation and two on the Blackfeet Reservation. In September of 2018 he stood trial in Federal Court in Great Falls. The first witness was former Blackfeet patient, Joe Four Horns

“The prosecutor in her opening statement, she puts up a picture of Joe Four Horns when he was about 10 or 11 years old, right around the time he would have been abused by Dr. Weber. She wants the jury to remember this little boy,” Dan Frosch.

Frontline’s “Predator on the Reservation” airs Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on your local PBS station. It can also be seen online.