Saturday, August 30, 2014
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What happened at Red Lake?
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An attempt at healing on the Red Lake Reservation

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Tribal elder Frank Dickenson, who works as a cultural and spiritual advisor, knows the healing medicines. He's performed healing ceremonies for a number of people since the shootings. Wanda Baxter says she hopes people will view the shootings as a sign that it's time to bring the old ways back. (MPR Photo/Tom Robertson)
A private ceremony was held Saturday on the Red Lake Indian Reservation for Dewayne Lewis, 15, of Ponemah. Lewis's funeral marks the last of 10 funerals held on the reservation since the March 21 shootings. Now, Red Lake band members are moving from a period of mourning, to one of recovery. The Red Cross and other agencies are offering counseling services for those who want them. But many people are instead turning to tribal elders and spiritual leaders for help.

Red Lake Reservation — For centuries, the Ojibwe people have led a simple lifestyle anchored by a belief in the creator and the guiding spirits of their ancestors. Though Christian churches have a strong presence at Red Lake, many tribal members still follow the old ways. They use natural medicines from the woods and traditional ceremonies to treat the mind, body and spirit.

In the wake of the shootings, many people on Red Lake are turning to those ancient spiritual ways for healing. Tribal elder Frank Dickenson, who works as a cultural and spiritual advisor, knows the healing medicines. He's performed healing ceremonies for a number of people since the shootings.

"When we go through the ritual and the spirits come. Maybe a grandmother and a grandfather spirits do come to the aid of this individual. They're the ones that work on this person," he says.

Dickenson recently performed a ceremony for a teenage girl from Red Lake who attempted suicide because she was so distraught over the shootings. He says the ritual healed the girl and changed her life.

"I don't know how to say this. These little spirits walking around. We sang two songs. And as we were singing, these little spirits were dancing around, but you can't see them. They're dancing because they're glad to help out this individual," he says.

Dickenson gets calls, day and night, from people asking for help. He says it's good there are more mainstream counseling services available. But Dickenson says some are reluctant to talk with people outside their culture.

Red Lake is a tight-knit community that's resistant to outsiders. The onslaught of reporters from around the world angered many on the reservation. Some say a few reporters were offering candy to children and cigarettes to teens as bribes in exchange for interviews.

Frank Dickenson says he's disgusted by those reports. He says mainstream culture has led the tribe's children astray. Dickenson says they need to get back to traditional values that center on the family.

The Red Cross has professional mental health counselors standing by for the people of Red Lake. Marya Hage, who is coordinating that effort, says not many have sought counseling because they're still in shock over the shootings. Hage says her team has been impressed by the traditional ways of dealing with trauma.

"They have a rich heritage and cultural procedures that probably help immensely with the healing process," she says. "And we've been privileged to be invited to participate, or at least be present in some of the ceremonies. And we're very supportive of their healing practices."

Some tribal members have worried for years the old ways were being lost. Wanda Baxter, Frank Dickenson's partner, helps with the healing ceremonies. Baxter says she hopes people will view the shootings as a sign that it's time to bring the old ways back.

"We have to go back to our traditional teachings," she says. "And it seems that nobody is listening to the elders. You know our elders, they know the hard times that we're going to be going through. But those hard times, maybe a good thing will come out of all that is happening. It has to."

Both traditional and conventional counselors say the road to recovery will be a long one. School officials are now talking about when and where high school students will return to classes. That decision could be made as early as Wednesday.

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