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Red Lake celebrates.

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New Boys & Girls Club facility

By Robin Buda -- Today staff

CANASTOTA, N.Y. - Driving 175 miles roundtrip just to see a movie doesn't sound like anyone's idea of a good time. But that's what the youth of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa had to do, and would do, because there wasn't much available on the reservation. That's all changed.

After several years of hard work and dedication, the Boys & Girls Club of Red Lake has a permanent home, and a place to provide the children of Red Lake with activities to participate in after school. BGCRL celebrated this accomplishment with a grand opening ceremony June 5.

Red Lake Chairman Floyd ''Buck'' Jourdain Jr., vice chairman of the BGCRL, became a BGC member in 2003 and prior to that had spent 13 years working in schools and communities with youth programs. He spoke of the necessity of this facility on the reservation.

''There's always been an extreme need, not only in our reservation, but in Indian country in general for youth opportunities and good programs of substance. It's one thing to keep kids entertained and provide recreation; but programming should also teach responsibility and values, give hope and emphasize education, leadership and family, and the Boys & Girls Club is a good vehicle for that.

''One of the things on the reservation for many, many years has been a lack of opportunity and activities for young people, and so I became a chairman there in 2004 and placed youth activities and youth issues high on the agenda of the tribal council. So it pushed for a Boys & Girls Club on the reservation.''

That push came to an extreme halt when tragedy struck.

''That was expedited when we had the tragedy, Red Lake school shootings in 2005. ... So there was a window of opportunity if there was any consolation to provide hope for our community because the young people in our reservation were devastated by this particular incident.''

With the combination of federal funding and a $1 million grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community, Red Lake established a BGC building.

There were several honorary guests, including a special bonus.

''[National Indian Gaming Association Chairman] Ernie Stevens Jr. was there and he spoke and gave a very inspiring speech,'' said Michael Meuers, Red Lake government and public relations. ''He's come to Red Lake on both good and sad occasions. He came right away after the shootings at Red Lake, and tried to do whatever he could. So he's also tried to come back to the good times as well. And of course this is a really big good thing that has happened. ... It was basically a celebration.'' Stevens donated $10,000 to the BGCRL.

''It was really nice to see that level of interest from one of the national Native leaders to come all the way to Red Lake to support our cost,'' Jourdain added.

The BGCRL provides five core component programs: health and life skills; education and career development; arts and cultural activities; character and leadership development; and sports, fitness and recreation.

With diabetes being a major issue among American Indians, BGCRL executive director Rebecca Wierschke explained the importance of the health and life skills component.

''With the health and life skills core area, we have one full-time person designated as a health and life skills coordinator. And she basically works with the T.R.A.I.L. program - that is, Together Raising Awareness for Indian Life. It's basically a diabetes preventative program. And then we also have her working with the kids on making healthy decisions for snacks, all the food preparation, teaching the kids how to live healthy lives and ensure their eating habits.''

Response to the club has been almost immediate. Enrollment is up to 350 children.

''We expect it to be really successful,'' Meuers said. ''Really good things are happening with kids up in Red Lake and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the leadership of Chairman Jourdain.''

The club is free to join and it's not restricted to Red Lake members.

''For the ages of 6 to 9, and then 10 through 12, we are open from 12 until 3:30 p.m., that's Monday through Friday. And then ages 13 through 15 and 16 through 18, we are open from 3:30 until 7 p.m.,'' Wierschke added.

For more information, visit www.redlakenationbgc.org.