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Red Lake seeks better programs for kids

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Chris Jourdain, pictured with daughter Alicia on the shore of lower Red Lake, is on the Red Lake Boys and Girls Club board of directors. The club is gearing up to resume normal club activities following last month's shootings. (MPR photo/Tom Robertson)
Red Lake community members are talking about ways to improve the lives of kids on the reservation. Perhaps the most visible effort involves the Boys and Girls Club. Tribal and club officials hope the national Boys and Girls Clubs will provide funding to help Red Lake's club broaden its impact on kids.

Red Lake, Minn. — Tribal and club officials are in San Diego this week attending a national conference of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. They're hoping to come back with a financial commitment from the organization to help Red Lake's club broaden its offerings for kids.

In normal times, the Boys and Girls Club plays a big part in the lives of kids at Red Lake. Since the club opened four years ago, it's attracted more than 600 members.

Usually, about 150 teens participate in club activities each day. Dawn Huseby, executive director of the club, says it offers kids something to do in a place where there aren't many options.

"There are no movie theaters, there are no roller skating rinks, there's no Burger King, there's no McDonald's, there's no recreation outlet resources for them to take advantage of," said Huseby. "That's part of our goal, is to bring back some of those options for the kids here."

These aren't normal times at Red Lake. Since the shootings in March, in which 10 people were killed, Huseby says the number of kids participating in the Boys and Girls Club has dwindled to just a handful.

"Compared to what we were offering, our numbers have dropped off significantly because of the tragedy that happened," said Huseby. "So we're trying to provide alternative programs for the kids here as much as we can, since we're not allowed to be back in the school right now."

The club doesn't have a building of its own. It's run out of a small office in the middle school. Since the shootings, the school and gymnasium have been off limits to the club because of security concerns.

Huseby says without a facility, club offerings in the past month have been sporadic. For awhile, the club moved into the Red Lake Community Center, but had to leave there to make room for other scheduled events.

As of this week, Boys and Girls Club programs at Red Lake have been temporarily suspended. Huseby says it's been frustrating for teens, especially since they're still only going to school on a half-day schedule.

"We've had endless calls from kids. They call our staff, they call the office, and they're like, 'When is the club going to open back up? We want to get involved in different activities.'" says Huseby. "They get bored. They're out of school at noon and they need something structured to do. And there's kids begging for programs."

The lack of youth activities at Red Lake is only part of the story. People have known for years kids on the reservation are at risk. Poverty and unemployment is high. Student test scores are typically among the lowest in the state.

Last year, a state survey showed nearly half of ninth grade girls at Red Lake had attempted suicide. Nearly 40 percent of ninth grade boys said they'd been treated for alcohol or drug problems.

Nearly all adults on the reservation have been protective of kids since the shootings. Despite repeated requests, school administrators, Boys and Girls Club officials and parents didn't want students to talk for this story.

Many say the shootings at Red Lake were a wakeup call. Jodie Beaulieu, treasurer of the Boys and Girls Club, says historically the tribe hasn't done a good enough job meeting the needs of children.

"We've missed some kids. They've fallen through the cracks," says Beaulieu. "How are we going to reclaim these kids from a life that hasn't dealt them a fair shake? We have the capabilities of doing that. We can't go back to what people say was normal, because normal is what caused what happened."

We missed some kids. They've fallen through the cracks. How are we going to reclaim these kids from a life that hasn't dealt them a fair shake? We have the capabilities of doing that.
- Jodie Beaulieu

Beaulieu says the Boys and Girls Club budget has been tight. But since the shootings, the club has received donations from across the country. Beaulieu says she hopes the national spotlight on Red Lake will allow the club to expand.

"I would really like to sometime soon, like real soon, see some tangible changes," said Beaulieu. "We say our youth are our most important resource. We need to see evidence in our community."

Some hope that evidence will come as soon as next week, when club officials expect to move back into space provided by the school.

After the shootings, the national Boys and Girls Clubs organization gave an extra $100,000 to the Red Lake club's operating budget. Club director Dawn Huseby says that will allow her to hire more people, provide more activities, and purchase some equipment.

The club has strong support from the tribal government. Chairman Buck Jourdain serves on the board of directors. Jourdain and Huseby are attending the Boys and Girls Clubs conference in San Diego this week. Huseby says she hopes the trip will result in additional funding to help build a facility the kids can call their own.

"I think the opportunities are endless right now," Huseby said. "It's not like they weren't before March 21, because... that was a part of our plan was to put up our own building, our own facility. But now the window of opportunity is there."

Last month's tragedy has some tribal members thinking about how to solve Red Lake's deeper social problems. Chris Jourdain is a member of the Boys and Girls Club's board of directors, as well as a small business owner. Jourdain says poverty is one of the biggest obstacles for kids. He encourages more people to become entrepreneurs, and says tribal members have to stand up and start creating their own opportunities.

"(There is) third generation welfare right now on our reservation, which means your grandma was on welfare, your mama was on welfare, now you're on welfare," said Jourdain. "So what are your kids going to be on, you know?"

Jourdain works as a counselor at the elementary and middle schools. He says there are discipline problems within the schools that are the result of family problems at home. Jourdain worries about what he calls an epidemic of crack cocaine use on the reservation.

"I've got little kids coming up to me, telling me that they wish their parents wouldn't smoke that white stuff, because it makes them go crazy," said Jourdain. "And who's really getting hurt is the kids. But see, there's not a lot of money up here to begin with, but what little people have, a lot of it's being spent on that stuff."

Jourdain says he doesn't recall a more horrible event on the reservation than what happened at the high school last month. But he expects something good will come of it.

"The direction we were going, you know, maybe it wasn't the right direction," he said. "So it took a major event like that ... a big slap in the face, to say, 'Hey, wake up. Where are we going to go? How are we going to get there?'"

Leaders at Red Lake admit they have a window of opportunity they have to take advantage of. Tribal officials went to Washington recently with a wish list of projects, including a new wastewater treatment plant and a new law enforcement center; the tribal police department now works out of a building that's been condemned.

Tribal officials say most of their needs involve federal programs that have been underfunded for years. They say if the federal government provided adequate funding, it would free up tribal resources to provide more services for kids.