Indian Country Today

A young woman from a small reservation community on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota will forever be remembered as a hero.

Raina Lynn Neeland, 18, of Rice Lake, drowned Monday after pulling several children from turbulent river water below a dam, authorities said.

“Raina was born a caretaker, always looking out for everyone and a mama bear. She was quiet but had such a spark of life. She could make friends anywhere with her kindness and compassion,” read her obituary.

Neeland and about seven children related to her were sliding over a rushing dam that separates Clearwater Lake and Clearwater River and got caught up in the churning water, according to the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office.

“They use it as a big waterslide,” Sheriff Darin Halverson. “Kids like to do that. ... They use tubes or whatever. Lots of times they go over on their own.”

Neeland pulled several of the youngsters to safety before she went under, witnesses told authorities.

“We probably would have had multiple fatalities,” Halverson told the Star Tribune. “The water is just churning under the dam. ... She did her part and saved who she could.”

When the first deputy arrived at the scene in Sinclair Township, an 8-year-old girl had been pulled from the water and initially was unresponsive. Bystanders performed life-saving measures and were able to resuscitate her, KVLY-TV reported.

Bystanders were attempting to revive the woman before paramedics arrived, but she was unresponsive.

Halverson said there are signs at the dam warning people to stay away. The water level was high due to a large amount of recent rain, he said.

“When the water level is lower, it’s not as dangerous,” the sheriff said. ”But it’s always dangerous when you are dealing with a dam.”

The water on both sides of the dam is not to be used for swimming, fishing or thrill-seeking, he said.

Neeland’s burial services were set for Saturday at the St. Phillip’s Episcopal Cemetery in Rice Lake. A GoFundme account was set up, and $16,500 had been raised as of Friday.

Neeland was raised by her grandmother, Lenny Neeland, and was her backbone and helper, according to her obituary. She enjoyed fishing, wildricing and spending time with her family.

“She could make friends anywhere with her kindness and compassion,” her obituary read.

Neeland is survived by Lenny Neeland, both parents and nine siblings.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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