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Red Lake tribe continues healing, recovery process

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The Red Lake School Board is taking public comment on how, and when, to reopen the high school. The school was the site of deadly shootings on March 21. (MPR photo/Dan Gunderson)
Red Lake band members gathered Monday night for a traditional community healing ceremony. Tribal elders called the meeting to begin the process of recovery from the March 21 shootings that claimed 10 lives. Meanwhile, tribal leaders met Monday with officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to begin assessing long term needs on the reservation. And discussions are ongoing as to when and where high school students will return to school.

Red Lake, Minn. — The Red Lake Nation is moving from a period of mourning and funerals, to one of healing. Tribal elders led ceremonies Monday night that are based on ancient spiritual traditions. The ceremonies were closed to reporters.

Kathleen Annette says the gathering was also a chance for community members to talk about when to resume high school classes. Annette is regional director of Indian Health Services in Bemidji. She says the Red Lake people have to approach that subject in their own way.

"Routinely we'd say, get the children back to school as soon as possible," said Annette. "But when you have a culture such as this, there's healing ceremonies that have to be done and there's ways to approach this. Now the tribe is truly struggling and trying to decide the best way to do this. I shouldn't say struggling. They're deliberating, and truly considering their options on this."

Elementary school kids are set to go back to classes April 11. Initially, there were plans to resume high school classes that week, too. But the school board has decided to get feedback from the community before moving ahead. Annette says that's probably a good idea.

As a community, they're strong. They're coming together. They're making decisions as they always have, in a format where we talk. We figure out what's best for us.
- Kathleen Annette, Indian Health Services

"It may make some sense to take a slower approach, to be deliberate, to make sure the ceremonies are done and that things are done correctly," Annette said. "And the elders are being consulted. And they will give guidance. They will."

On Monday, Red Lake Chairman Buck Jourdain and the tribal council met with federal officials to discuss short and long term needs on the reservation. Charles Grim, national director of Indian Health Services, says until now, the council was preoccupied with wakes and funerals. Grim says tribal leaders are now focusing on what sort of help they need from the federal government.

"Some assessments are ongoing right now to determine, for example, if there will be additional long-term staffing requirements needed for a community to get over this sort of crisis of the magnitude that they had to endure," Grim said.

Indian Health Services is coordinating with the Department of Interior, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to help out the tribe.

Grim says one of the needs identified so far was for upgraded health equipment. For example, he says, three of Red Lake's ambulances have logged more than 200,000 miles and need replacing.

"There was a great need for ambulances in this particular incident," said Grim. "And it became evident about some of those needs. So we are in the process right now of getting them two additional ambulances out here that will replace two of those that are over mileage."

Mental health counselors say many Red Lake residents are still in shock from the shootings, but some are beginning to open up. Annette says Red Lake's strong cultural traditions will see them through.

"As a community, they're strong," said Annette. "They're coming together. They're making decisions as they always have, in a format where we talk. We figure out what's best for us."

Red Lake school board officials say they hope to decide this week where and when high school students will return to classes. The board was expected to meet Tuesday morning with school staff to continue that discussion.

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