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Red Lake Hosts Successful and Fun Gathering of Elders

The Red Lake Nation's Third Annual Elders Gathering was not only successful, but fun for all involved and included dancing, contests and giveaways.

More than 350 elders attended Red Lake’s Third Annual Elder Gathering at Seven Clans Casino Red Lake on April 1 to 2. Much of the agenda was anishaa, or just for fun.

Upon entering the complex, one would see several informational booths describing tribal programs and businesses scattered around the edge of the hotel lobby, particularly those concerned with elders.

A mixing of youth and elders made for much of the fun of the event. An important part of the gathering has been to provide a venue for youth and elders to interact and learn from each other. Youth acted as volunteers and provided information and entertainment.

“This is one of the things we were looking for in the elders conference," said organizer Thelma May, “we wanted to have youth and elders mixing together, learning together, having fun together and enjoying each other.”

Keynote Speaker Stacey Thunder

Keynote speaker Stacey Thunder, a Red Lake tribal attorney, related her extensive and diverse resume as an attorney, and in the entertainment business.

Growing up in Columbia Heights, Thunder graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, and now lives in the Twin Cities. In addition to her role as tribal attorney, she is the mother of four children ages 12, 8, 6 and 23 months, two girls and two boys.

Thunder is a proud member of Red Lake Nation. As the oldest of seven children, she said she knew her parents had financial hard times, too.

“I learned early that education was the way out of those situations,” she said. “I’ve served Indian country for over 13 years in various legal capacities including general counsel for Red Lake Nation.”

She is an owner of Eagle Thunder Entertainment, an independent and Native-owned entertainment company with musician and filmmaker, Robby Romero.

Dedicating much of her time to youth, Thunder is a board member of Native Children’s Survival, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about critical issues facing Mother Earth, her children, and the seventh generation through music and film. She is also a board member of the Nike N7 Fund, which provides grant money to Native American communities in support of sports and physical activity programs for the youth.

As a film and television actress, Thunder played the recurring role of “Judith” in the cable channel Starz hit series, “Crash,” a provocative 13-episode drama series.

Thunder is the host and co-producer of the PBS (Lakeland PTV) news and lifestyle program, Native Report, a series that celebrates Indian culture and heritage. She has hosted almost 100 episodes since the show’s inception in 2004. Native Report is in its seventh season with a 15-episode schedule.

“There is a lot of interest in our culture and our stories,” she said. “I hope there will be a shift in how we [American Indians] are perceived.”

Music & Dance

Following Thunder’s presentation, Anayah Littlewolf performed piano pieces and Sonny Johnson and his guitar had folks dancing in the aisles with his rendition of a 1954 Elvis Presley tune, “That’s All Right Mama.”

Red Lake Nation Royalty, dressed in full regalia, took their turns providing a dance exhibition.

Native Pride Dancers featuring well-known grass dancer Larry Yazzi also performed. Formed in 2003 and directed by Yazzie, the dance troupe strives to educate and entertain audiences of all ages throughout the world on the beauty, skill, and majesty of American Indian music and dance.

Not quite dance, but a lots of laughs ensued with a “Shapey/Skaky Legs” Contest. Contestants stood behind a curtain and moved about vying for the loudest applause that would determine the winner of having the most “interesting” legs.

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Celebrating Hoops

Elders were greeted by five of the Red Lake basketball players from the 1997 team that went to state. The entire video of the game between Red Lake and Wabasso was shown on two large screens. Guests included Coach Doug Desjarlait and tourney stars Gerald Kingbird and Delwyn Holthusen Jr.

The presentation celebrated Red Lake’s position in local hoops lore as the record breaking Red Lake Ogichidaag basketball team that went to the State Championship in St. Paul for the 1997 Class A semifinal. They played the Wabasso Rabbits (ironically Wabasso from Ojibwemowin Waabooz/Rabbit) in what was to become the biggest record breaking game in state basketball history. Records included field goals attempted-87, field goals made-48, most points in a quarter-43, most points scored by a losing team-113, total points-230, among others.

“Winning a championship would have been great, but it’s more important that these kids learned a sense of pride in themselves,” DesJarlait said. “They’ve seen how the Indian community reacted to them and how proud they were of them for what they were able to accomplish. A state championship is left on the basketball court. Having pride in themselves and their heritage is something they will have for the rest of their lives.”

Keynote Speaker Holly Cook Macarro

The second day’s keynote speaker was Red Lake member Holly Cook Macarro who related her experiences working for the Red Lake Nation in Washington, D. C. She is a partner at Ietan Consulting, LLC.

Prior to joining Ietan, Cook Macarro was a senior public affairs advisor at Holland & Knight and from 1999-2001, she served as the director of the Office of Native American Affairs at the Democratic National Committee. In addition, Cook Macarro served in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in 1997-1998, where she worked primarily on Native American issues.

Leading up to the 2004 Presidential election, Cook Macarro served on the Kerry-Edwards Native American Policy team which developed candidate policies on Indian country issues. From 2007-2008, she served as a key member of Senator Hillary Clinton’s Native American Policy Advisory Committee as part of her Presidential campaign. Following the primaries, she was invited to join Senator Barack Obama’s Native American Policy Committee as part of his presidential campaign.

Cook Macarro was honored recently for her work with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “To stand with so many Native women warriors and watch President Obama sign VAWA into law was one of the proudest moments of my career,” she shared. “As my tears flowed, I thought of the women back home in Red Lake, working and staying at Equay Wiigamig (Women's Shelter), and of the many other Native women who will now be protected and have access to resources because of this effort. For so many reasons, this was the sweetest of victories.”

King and Queen

New this year was a contest for King and Queen, or Akiwenzi and Minidmooye. Several contestants vied for the honor with the selection going to Bill Spears and Ramona Manuel.

Special awards

Plaques were awarded to the following persons:

Oldest Male: Gordon Bailey, 96.

Oldest Female: Mary Sayers, 92.

Longest Married: Susan and Harry Johnson, 67.

Furthest Traveled: Birdie Dunkley, 252.

Most Grandkids: Maddie Dunkley, 120.

Most people living in their house: Maggie Spears, 13.