Image courtesy US District Court of Montana
United States / Native Americans

Predatory Doctors and Nowhere to Run

Life expectancy for Native American men in Montana is 56, a whole 22 years below the national average. In the context of the low standard of living that Native American communities often find themselves in, such a low life expectancy fits in with the other poor conditions that characterize those communities. To illustrate, health programs for Native Americans are consistently under-resourced and underfunded. Moreover, Native Americans also have the lowest employment rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Basic needs that Americans generally take for granted such as easy access to a grocery store, let alone access to doctors and medical services, are absent on many tribal reservations. Taken together, these are some of the factors that have contributed to the cycle of poverty that plague many Native American communities.  

Due to the dearth of available healthcare professionals, reservations often settle for whatever doctor they can get without taking into account their medical or criminal records. The lack of adequate healthcare has also meant that many communities are forced to turn their cheeks to the wrongs that doctors commit. A lack of accountability has created situations in which some doctors grossly abuse the power that has been granted to them and act with impunity.

This was exactly the case with Stanley Patrick Weber, who, on February 7th of this year, was found guilty by a jury in Montana and was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for the sexual abuse of two Native American boys during his time as a doctor on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Weber, a 70 year old white man, had faced allegations of sexual misconduct against children throughout his more than twenty-year run as a doctor on various reservations, but never faced any sort of punishment. Some complaints were ignored, while others were investigated with the conclusion that Weber had done nothing wrong. If the water got too hot, Weber would simply move to another reservation. Given the lack of other options, reservations would often accept Weber, even when they were aware of his troubled past.

The earliest complaint against Weber came in 1992, soon after he began working on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but wherever he traveled, accusations of abuse followed. Signs such as his hoarding of children’s toys in his basement, his intense fascination and “empathy” for his young patients, his practice of inviting children to his home, and the numerous children coming out with their stories of sexual abuse pointed, quite obviously, towards his pedophilic tendencies. Yet, until recently, no real actions were ever taken against Weber to put an end to his predatory behavior. The only reason Weber ended up being convicted of sexual abuse against children is because he was attacked and robbed by one of the grown children he had sexually abused. The man robbed and attacked Weber as a sort of retribution. The aftermath of the robbery brought about a large investigation against Weber that finally brought to light his predatory behavior against children.

The case of Stanley Patrick Weber is but one example of the continued trauma that is being inflicted upon Native American communities. There are a multitude of reasons as to why there are high rates of mental illness, domestic abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide in many Native American communities, but the lack of adequate healthcare on reservations and the presence of predatory doctors who take advantage of that fact exacerbate the trauma that current and future generations will have to contend with. For example, many of the children who made allegations against Weber between 1992 and 2016 have since developed serious mental health problems as a result of the pain that had been repeatedly inflicted upon them and having to watch their abuser walk around freely. The fact that a reservation would knowingly employ a doctor who had been accused of sexual abuse against children is a testament to how desperate some reservations are for healthcare professionals. However, some of the issues that Native American communities face can be rectified by simply investing more money into medical institutions so that reservations don’t have to resort to hiring a pedophile. The abuse that Weber committed is only one example, but it highlights the deplorable standard of living and unequal power dynamics that Native American communities have to adjust to. America has spent too much time watching Native American communities struggle while doing nothing. The government gives insignificant funding and blames the communities for its own failure. It is time to change that, and we can begin with the simple fix of improving access to healthcare on reservations.