Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores said this month that alongside issues stemming from the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling and the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people, addressing child sex abuse within the Indian Health Service should be a top priority of the new presidential administration.
The IHS has "systemic problems," Shores said during a virtual symposium hosted by the University of Oklahoma College of Law's American Indian Law Review, "with regard to its ability to protect Native American children that seek out some sort of health care or health services at their facilities that are, sadly, targeted by pedophiles that work within the Health Service."
"That's not to paint them with a broad brush, and that's certainly a small group, but we have seen time and again that system exploited," Shores said.
Shores, a member of the Choctaw Nation and, at one point, the only Native American U.S. Attorney, said he led a task force on the matter during the Trump administration, triggered by 2019 reporting from the Wall Street Journal and PBS Frontline into Dr. Stanley Weber, a pediatrician convicted of molesting children at IHS facilities across multiple reservations during his three-decade tenure with the Health Service.
"There were folks that knew about his predatory behavior with regard to Native American children," Shores said the task force discovered. "Some had attempted to report it. Some had been discouraged from reporting it. Some just didn't want to get involved.
"What it exposed was that there were great lapses in the system of reporting suspected abuse within IHS and then follow-through action as a result."
Shores' team presented findings and recommendations to then-First Lady Melania Trump at the White House in July of last year, but the Trump administration did not implement them, he said.
"What I'm hoping is that the new administration will review the report, review our findings, and adopt our recommendations in full," Shores said.
White House spokesperson Ike Hajinazarian directed questions about the matter to the Department of Justice, which did not return a request for comment.