Six Sioux Indians are suing the US government, claming it failed to protect American Indian students whom it forced to attend boarding schools. The plaintiffs, seeking class-action status for the $25 billion lawsuit, allege that the federal government established the boarding school system–predominantly run by religious groups–in the late 19th century to systematically destroy Indian culture and replace it with “white society,” reported the Associated Press. It then covered up reports of student physical and sexual abuse–sometimes ending in death, thereby violating treaties that promised to compensate Indians for wrongs committed by non-Indians, according to the Associated Press.
“The physical beatings and sexual abuse were justified by schoolteachers, administrators and officials as a means to ‘send the devil out’ of the Native American children,” the lawsuit stated, according to the AP. American Indian activist Russell Means told Reuters, “We’re putting the United States of America on notice that you can’t pretend to be who you are to the world while in your own backyard you are murdering and maiming us.” The plaintiffs’ attorneys say charges will also likely be filed against the churches or religious organizations that ran most of the boarding schools, located in South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Minnesota and California.