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The Banishing: Reporter's Notebook

This week's cover story, "The Banishing," examines crime on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe reservation, and how the tribe has dealt with repeat violent offenders.

In 2008, the tribal court began banishing perennial criminals from the community. Legally called "exclusion," the order exiles an offender from the reservation for at least five years. If the banished member can maintain a clean record and gainful employment in that time, he or she can appeal the exclusion.

But three years later, crime persists. Throughout the course of this story, we talked to many tribe members who say the reservation has become a much more dangerous place since the mid-2000s. Most attribute the problem to gangs like the Native Mob and Vice Lords.

"You can't trust anybody anymore," says Mille Lacs Ojibwe member Irene Benjamin. "It's families against families, friends against friends.... It's just crazy."

Here are a couple anecdotes that didn't make print:

'Jamie Got Stabbed'

The road to Maria Kegg's house is decorated with smashed metal mailboxes and mounds of dirt.

Outside her home, a pit bull barks viciously at anyone who dares enter the property, pulling the chain around its neck with no regard for its own throat. Kegg, a slight woman with messy black hair, answers the door with caution. "Yeah?" she says.

A few minutes later, she is sitting at her kitchen table, recounting the details of the attempted carjacking that nearly got her killed. She speaks in such a casual tone, she might as well be describing an episode of Law & Order. (Read more about the carjacking in the feature).

For Kegg, this was just another day in her neighborhood, which might explain her casual attitude toward the story. The area has become so dangerous, she says, that she is on edge day and night. She often stays at her mother's house in a nicer part of the reservation when things look particularly grim.

As she looks at portraits of her kids sitting on the kitchen counter, she tells another story. One time she heard a shrill scream coming from outside her house and ran out to find a group of people gathered around a nearby park.

"I didn't think anything of it until I went outside and heard people crying," says Kegg. "And they said, 'Jamie got stabbed.'"

She ran to the park to find her teenage son lying the grass, she says, his guts hanging out of his stomach where his torso had been slashed.

"I don't know how many times I can call the cops," says Kegg. "I don't know if they help or not."

'Another Party Gone Wrong'

On an autumn Tuesday morning at Mille Lacs, the talk of the reservation is a recent shooting in a neighborhood called Bugg Hill. Though the tribe-owned bungalow homes look relatively new, Bugg Hill has established a reputation as one of the worst areas of the reservation. Many of the units are already boarded up and covered with graffiti.

The night of the shooting, Cynthia Guernsey was getting ready to finish her shift as security supervisor at Grand Casino when she heard a commotion in the lobby. At first, she made nothing of it. Then she heard someone scream an alarming combination of words.

"Did they just say 'gunshot wound'?" she remembers thinking.

Sure enough, she stepped out to see a 19-year-old man sitting in the casino clutching his right arm. The blood appeared to already be dried, meaning the wound was at least an hour old. He had a gash on his forehead, says Guernsey, as if he had also been pistol-whipped across the face.

When the police arrived, the man told them he had been dropped off by a black Chevy Tahoe, says Guernsey. He wouldn't say who was driving or what had happened. Police ruled it a home invasion.

On a fall afternoon a week later, a broken window on the front door of the house where it happened is sloppily boarded with a piece of plywood. A toy four-wheeler sits in the backyard. No one is home.

In the adjoining bungalow unit, a young woman answers the door holding a baby in a diaper. She wasn't home when the shooting happened, she says, offering only that she knows a woman lives there with her young child.

"Probably just another party gone wrong," she says casually, and shuts the door.


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