Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Jill Burcum
Star Tribune 

Unexpected gifts

Some Editorial Board members and staff recall events that were 'blessings' in disguise


The phone call came, as I knew it would, from the newsroom, back in March 2005.

I was on vacation when a tragic Minnesota news story broke -- the Red Lake Indian Nation school shooting. My assignment when I came back: spelling the weary Star Tribune reporting crew already on the scene.

That's how I found myself driving north on a cold Sunday night wishing I'd become an accountant. I'd spent much of the past year and half covering the Cold Spring school shootings and the Wisconsin deer hunter slayings. Now I was parachuting into another grieving community.

I couldn't wait for my first weeklong reporting rotations to end. Red Lake residents are suspicious of outsiders, and the shooting understandably heightened that. The reservation has no street signs, has "roads" that are rutted paths and has sacred places off-limits to outsiders.

Law enforcement also warned journalists to leave before sunset. I worked harder for stories there than I ever have before, and for the first time, fear accompanied me as I did my job.

But I came to appreciate my time spent there over the next year as I followed the story of 14-year-old Alex Roy, a young mom essentially widowed by the shooting. Her 15-year-old boyfriend, the father of her baby boy, was killed at the school.

Alex and her family were incredibly generous in opening their home and their lives. The once-forbidding reservation became a far friendlier place as I watched the Roys' friends and family care for Alex's baby so she could attend school, play softball and cheerlead.

More than once I wished that teen moms back in the Twin Cities had the same support network.

The Roys also patiently explained their heritage and traditions. I watched fascinated one day as the past and present came together as Alex made an offering out of a McDonald's cheeseburger to the restless spirits outside.

I remain grateful for the time I spent in Red Lake. Until then, I'd thought of Minnesota as a pretty ordinary place.

I understand now that its history and culture are richer and more colorful than most of us imagine. The assignment I dreaded has become one that I treasure.


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