Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Death In An Indian School

When you put someone in a drunk tank, you check on them, regularly and thorouughly. This didn’t happen at Chemawa Indian School. A sixteen year old girl from Warm Springs died of alcohol poisoning because somebody forgot to look in on her.

This sort of thing happens too often, period. Chemawa Indian School has all the potential to be a model school; it's just never quite made it. It's had some very hard working people on the staff, particularly in the program to deal with alcohol and drug abuse. But there's been a disconnect.

Cindy Sohappy was a niece of David Sohappy, set up like a bowling pin over selling Columbia River salmon to federal agents. The Sohappy family have long been famous for fighting for Indian fishing rights. It’s been, I think, a hard act to follow for some of the younger members of the clan. Nevertheless, it's tragic, it shouldn't have happened, and it indicated a problem that needed the light of day shined on it.

It’s just sad.

There was another case, a few years ago, up at Warm Springs Reservation, when a man who was drunk got bit by a rattlesnake. The tribal authorities overlooked the snake-bite when they threw him in the drunk tank. He died from the snake-bite.

Investigator Finds Sohappy Case Frustrating
Posted by: "" Intheshade110
Date: Wed Aug 2, 2006 2:44 am (PDT)

Investigator Finds Sohappy Case Frustrating
By Rob Manning


PORTLAND, OR - 2006-08-01 - Federal investigators spent almost two years
digging into an Oregon tragedy.

On December 6, 2003, Cindy Sohappy died of alcohol poisoning at the Chemawa
Indian School in Salem. She was 16 years old.

The Interior Department's Inspector General handed his report over to top
Interior officials exactly nine months ago. But it was only in the last few
weeks that it was released to the public.

As Rob Manning reports, the investigator is still angry at what he found --
and he's frustrated with the response.


Cindy Sohappy died in a detention cell at Chemawa. Intoxicated students like
her had been placed in those cells over the years, perhaps thousands of

Usually, a guard would check in on kids who'd had too much to drink, every
fifteen minutes. No one checked on Sohappy for hours, and when someone finally
did - she wasn't moving.

She was pronounced dead shortly after that. Doctors found her blood
contained quadruple the legal limit of alcohol.

Inspector General Earl Devaney says the problems at Chemawa started long
before that night in December.

He says the blame goes over the head of the guard on duty. Devaney's report
fingers the former national director of the bureau's law enforcement arm and
the supervisor of detention programs.

Earl Devaney: "For a period of years, their own people had been coming to
them and telling them that something needed to be done here. And they had
virtually ignored it, or just chose to assume that the other party would take care
of it. Once again, sort of pointing to the other side of BIA as being
responsible, and no one ending up responsible."

In a memo to leaders at the Department of Interior, Devaney calls the
conflict between the bureau's law enforcement and education administrators a turf

The Inspector General says he never got a good answer from either side as to
why they dealt with drunk teenagers the way they did.

Earl Devaney: "Why are we handling kids that have obvious behavioral
problems and are getting intoxicated on a regular basis, why are we putting them in
a jail cell, as opposed to some other treatment facility - especially at
their age - is a question that should have been answered a long time ago. And it
came as no surprise to anyone looking at this, at least from the outside,
that something bad was going to happen there."

Mildred Quim went to Chemawa in the late 60s and early 70s. She says tragedy
struck then, as well, when a suicide shook the school community.

She sees a parallel, now. Quim's son went to Chemawa with Cindy Sohappy. He
introduced his mother to Sohappy, at a wrestling meet the day before she

Mildred Quim: "He was really saddened by the fact that he lost a friend. But
I think it made him stronger, it didn't make him want to go to the, I guess,
negative participation with the peers. It made him work stronger to
accomplish his goals, and set an example."

Quim's son has since graduated and joined the army. Her daughter will be a
Chemawa senior. Quim says she's working to address drinking on campus.

Some things have changed at Chemawa. The detention cells are closed. The BIA
officer is gone. Three Marion County deputies split patrol duties at Chemawa
in his place.

But Inspector General Earl Devaney says that the Bureau of Indian Affairs
hasn't done nearly enough to hold people responsible.

Earl Devaney: "I would have liked to have seen a much quicker response than
this. I also would like to notice some people absent from the scene, but I
haven't seen that."

Chemawa officials referred questions to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in
Washington, DC.

Nedra Darling is the spokeswoman.

Nedra Darling: "As a result of the report, BIA sponsored what we called a
'stand-down session' last fall, during which staff at each of our 184
BIA-funded schools spent a day receiving additional training to insure proper
compliance with our policies and procedures."

Darling says "ongoing litigation" prevents her from saying much more.

Inspector General Earl Devaney says as the department's lead investigator,
he doesn't always follow the punishment stage. But he says it's different when
a teenager dies.

Earl Devaney: "I was at the hearing up on the hill last year when Cindy's, I
believe it was her aunt or grandmother, came and spoke to the committee. It
was a very poignant moment and I was more outraged after that than I had been
knowing what I knew when I was testifying. I am very disappointed that the
Department didn't move faster. I am disappointed I haven't been informed
exactly what the punishment is going to be. And I hope that the Congress will hold
BIA's feet to the fire on this."

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith serves on two committees that held hearings on
Cindy Sohappy's death.

According to staffers, Smith wants better oversight, and is willing to spend
more if it'll mean structural changes.

Parent Mildred Quim says the school has been through a lot. She hopes the
attention will bring improvements -- rather than just more painful reminders.

Mildred Quim: "Different people from different parts of the Northwest did go
there and work with those young people and had songs and prayers, to help
them deal with that. And I think that just the repetition of the story over and
over, and seeing her picture over and over, I think that would bother a lot
of our young people."

Inspector General Devaney says the Bureau may act in the next few weeks
against the people he found responsible.

Leaders on Capitol Hill are also expected to take up funding for Indian
facilities in the coming months.

This was very disturbing. My heart breaks each time I read of children who are lost and suffering because we are too busy to "check on them." We should have been checking on them for the past 100 years.
I don't know the personal stuff involved in this instance, but I do know white America has done just about everything it possibly can—and the BIA is an agency of white America—to destroy Indian people. One way or another, intentionally or neglectfully, things are a mess.

There is a pattern, and it's an ugly one.
Thanks for the info on the Cindy Sohappy case. I have been reading Andrea Smith's Conquest and she comments on Cindy's death in her chapter Boarding School Abuses and the Case for Reparations. Searching for more info. on the web I found almost nil. Really appreciate your post. In fact the whole blog is wonderfully insightful. Thanx again...from Iowa
It happened six years ago but I remember her, for her smiles and her laughs she will always be in the hearts of who she cared about. I never knew anyone so cheery just for everyday but there she was may she rest in peace.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?