Red Lake High School shooting spree

Shootings at Red Lake

The Associated Press reports that tribal police have set up road blocks on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, where as many as 18 people are said to have been shot this afternoon. But in what will go down as the worst school shooting in Minnesota history (early indication: eight dead, six at Red Lake High School), the news media may have more the usual difficulties reporting the street level reality of the story.

Why? Because of Red Lake?s unusual legal status as one of only two ?closed? reservations in the country. Here?s the historical primer: Unlike the vast majority of 19th--century Indian chiefs, tribal leaders at Red Lake never signed the Dawes Act of 1887. Under the Dawes Act, tribes ?allotted? communally held reservation land to individual tribal members. Over the generations, desperate or naïve Indians sold their property to non-natives, resulting in massive, nationwide loss of tribal lands.

As a consequence, typical reservations in Minnesota and elsewhere are checkerboards, chunks of Indian held land interspersed with lands owned by non-Indians. Accordingly, non-natives?including non-native journalists?generally move freely across reservation borders. In a practical regard, this makes reporting relatively easy. Red Lake is different. Visitors come and go at the pleasure of the band. While the borders are not typically sealed, the band can barricade the reservation. For the time being, it appears Red Lake is shut down and the media hordes are being held at bay.

UPDATE: The shootings are now officially international news. A BBC reporter stationed in Washington, D.C., just filed a radio report. It sounded as if he had never said the word "Minnesota" or "Ojibwe" before.

A MEMORY: In 1999, I spent the better part of the week at Red Lake High School, reporting a story about the success of the boys' basketball team and what it meant to people on the reservation. Among my more vivid memories of the visit: from the outside, the school looked like a medium security prison. Here is the relevant exerpt:

Just east of the heart of downtown Red Lake sits a low-slung red-brick building surrounded by a six-foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The fence was erected around Red Lake High School a few years back in response to a rising tide of summertime vandalism. Even some school employees complain that it makes the place look too much like a prison, an impression bolstered by the constant presence of both a guard and a metal detector at the main entrance. A video monitor connected to hallway cameras provides constant surveillance of the 260-some students.

According to counselor Keith Lussier, the metal detector was installed three or four years ago after a student showed up on school grounds with a gun. He says there haven't been incidents of serious violence at the school in recent years, though, and characterizes the security measures as a mere precaution. They help some students and parents feel safe, he says.

Gangs remain a problem, Lussier says, with affiliations often imported when Red Lakers return to the reservation after spending a few years in tough urban neighborhoods. "Things happen. Jobs fizzle out or are not there. Housing crumbles. And so families make their way back," explains the counselor, a veteran of the American Indian Movement who grew up in North Minneapolis. "The kids come back walking, acting, and wearing the clothes of gang culture. And they start to influence the other kids. Some of them have never been off the reservation other than Bemidji, but they see all this and they start acting out."


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