Child, community fell through the cracks

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RED LAKE, Minn. - In Indian country there is no question that culture and
community are strongly embedded in many children's psyche before they are
old enough to express themselves verbally. Grandparents, aunts, uncles,
cousins and a community that shares the same values are all there to wrap
themselves around the children.

What happened in Red Lake on March 21 was a tragedy that is most uncommon
in Indian country. Patrick Ragsdale, director of the BIA said he does not
know of any single incident with this magnitude ever happening in Indian
country.

Ten people are dead, the result of a school shooting at the Red Lake High
School. Jeffrey Weise, now considered a trouble youth, walked into the high
school that he attended and opened fire. Five students, a teacher and a
security guard lay dead before he turned the gun on himself.

Red Lake is a small, close-knit community and those who live there are now
trying to determine how something like this could happen in a place where
everyone knows everyone. The population at Red Lake is 6,000, and it is a
closed reservation in that no land is owned by non-Indian residents and the
few non-Indian residents are generally married to tribal members.

Adding to the shock and suffering was the arrest of the tribal chairman's
16-year-old son, Louis Jourdain, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.
A hearing was held in Duluth Court on March 29.

The arrest was not unexpected, but the people of Red Lake were surprised
when they found out who it was.

Was it the community that failed young Weise and Jourdain, or the lack of
cultural education: or was it the social service system? These are all
questions to which Red Lake members seek answers.

Red Lake is awash in poverty, but in that poverty a close-knit,
culturally-rich community thrives, according to tribal members on and off
the reservation. But regardless of how large or remote a community is, it
becomes much larger when the rest of Indian country and elsewhere express
grief over the tragedy. Thousands of messages from all over the world have
poured into the tribal offices.

Politicians have entered their voices. Democrats on the House Judiciary
Committee called on Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to take immediate
committee action.

"It is difficult for us to conceive of a more pressing public policy matter
than protecting our children from school violence," a written statement
from the Democrats stated.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who attended victims' funerals, said: "Even in
grief I can see that the Red Lake Nation is one of Minnesota's wealthiest
places."

He said wealth is not measured in terms of property, but comes from the
strength of communities and families.

"In regards to what happened at Red Lake, you can't project a catastrophe
like that," said Leland Leonard, director of education for the Navajo
Nation.

"Usually a small tribe like [Red Lake] is closely knit: [the shootings]
shouldn't have happened. It goes down to leadership and family values -
that is what it amounts to us down here.

He noted that if the culture is filtered down to the children, the language
is kept alive and the school has a curriculum that reflects the tribal
culture, these types of events should not happen.

And that is what Red Lake is struggling with now. The social system may not
have failed Weise. He was under medication for depression after an
attempted suicide in 2003. Relatives said an increase in his medication
could have triggered this incident.

Weise's father committed suicide four years ago and his mother has been
comatose in a nursing home since an auto accident. He lived between the
homes of his grandmother and grandfather, long-time Red Lake Police
Department officer Daryl Lussier. He killed Lussier first for his weapons,
according to reports.

Elders and tribal members who gathered in healing ceremonies spoke of
prophecies that indicated this type of thing would happen if the youth were
left unattended.