Some Red Lake members grieve from 300 miles awayby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
Both on and off the reservation, Red Lake Ojibwe will remember the 10 people who died in a school shooting a year ago. Tribal offices on the reservation and in the Twin Cities close to mark the tragic anniversary. This has been a difficult year for Red Lake members, even for those who live far away for the reservation.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Of the 10,000 members of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe, fewer than half live on the reservation. Many live in the Twin Cities, and it's been tough for them to cope with the aftermath of the shootings.
Immediately after a student killed nine people and himself, Red Lake members returned to the reservation to help comfort loved ones. And in the year that's passed, many members have drawn closer to each other, both on and off the reservation.
The Red Lake Committee was established at the tribal office in Minneapolis in the days following the shootings. The current Urban Office director, Jessica Rock, says the shooting opened the eyes of urban members to the disconnection between them and the reservation.
Even though Red Lake land is some 300 miles north of the Twin Cities, some of the ills of city life are also felt on the rural reservation -- crime, poverty, addiction, and, of course violence.
Tony Looking Elk, a Red Lake member who grew up in the Twin Cities, didn't personally know any of the victims, but he's familiar with their families. He says the shooting was a sobering moment.
"I think the shooting was an amazing sense of reality," he says. "When I started thinking about my connection and the harm and the hurt that was created by it, and maybe, to a degree, the random nature of it, it really made me rethink what I wouldn't necessarily call my priorities, but there had to be in my eyes an embrace of the family."
Looking Elk says he drew closer to his immediate family after the shootings. His mother, two brothers, a sister and a few other relatives live in the Twin Cities. However, the rest of his extended family remains on the reservation. And while Looking Elk says he's kept in contact with those living up north, he's only visited the reservation once since the shooting. He says the tragic event has kept him away.
He says he felt he needed to find stability in his thinking and take inventory of himself before he could return again.
"It made me stop and just rethink and reconsider many things. I think until I can arrive at having a sense of, maybe it's more a peace of mind, I think only then can I enter and be able to provide some good," he says.
Looking Elk says he's always been a champion for the well-being of Native people, but he says the shooting has made him feel helpless and also made him question what he has to offer.
While the healing process has begun for some Red Lake members, it's hardly complete. Arlene Downwind-White, the former director of the Red Lake Urban Office, knows the families of many of the shooting victims and has visited the reservation several times over the past year.
She says when she goes home now, it's not the same.
"For me, when I go home, it's great. But there's also this sadness that's come onto our reservation. And it's hard to balance the happiness of going home and then also knowing that so much violence has happened," she says.
Downwind-White says no matter who she goes to visit, she always sees someone who has been affected by the shooting. And she says the emotional state of many people on the reservation is fragile.
"There's, I won't say it was an edginess, but that being careful of what you say, of how you act, because you know that people are still grieving and you don't want to infringe on that grieving," she says. "But you also want to let them know that you're there, you've come home for a while and you're thinking about them."
She says before she returns to the Twin Cities, she always puts out her tobacco -- an Indian tradition that sends prayers for a safe journey.
But the journey from the shooting has been a difficult one. And it's not clear when or where it will end. To mark the somber anniversary of the shooting, there will be a moment of silence and reflection Tuesday at 2 p.m.
There won't be any community-wide ceremonies in the Twin Cities or on the reservation to mark the occasion. Red Lake members will observe the tragic anniversary privately.
- Morning Edition, 03/21/2006, 7:20 a.m.