County Courts Install Red Lake/Leech Lake Flags
Flags to be Displayed Permanently in All Court Rooms
"It's no secret that the Native American Community is in our court rooms to a large extent for both criminal court and child protection cases. So for people who come to court who see a white judge, a white prosecutor, a white defense attorney, and who themselves are not white, to be able to see the flags, and know that by those flags, we are telling them that this court room belongs to them as well as it does to anyone." ~Judge Paul Benshoof
A Tribal Flag Raising Ceremony with Red Lake Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Beltrami County was held in courtroom #1 at the Beltrami County Judicial Center on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at 3:30 p.m.
The Red Lake Band and Leech Lake tribal banners joined those of the United States and Minnesota marking the start of their presence in all four Beltrami County courtrooms on a permanent basis. All were welcome to join the Tribal Nations and Beltrami County as each party raised their flag as a symbol of improving collaboration and government-to-government relations.
According to Chief Judge Paul Benshoof many months of planning were involved. He noted that his idea first came from Shared Vision's advocacy to post Ojibwe signage at the county campus. Shared Vision is and was also promoting the posting of the White Earth flag along with Red Lake and Leech Lake on poles outside the County Administration building. The wheels of government sometimes move at a snails pace so Benshoof approached Michael Meuers of Bemidji's Ojibwe Signage Project about the idea for posting in courtrooms "probably a year or two ago," said Benshoof. But those ideas moving too slowly, Benshoof said that he and other judges from Beltrami County reached out this past spring to both Leech Lake and Red Lake to participate in today's flag posting ceremony. (Beltrami County has recently agreed to post Ojibwe/English signage at the campus soon)
Waiting for the courtroom to fill with elected officials, county workers, tribal members and others, it seemed the ceremony would start on "Indian Time" about 3:45 pm.
Beltrami Chief Judge Benshoof started off with a welcome and introduction. Benshoof introduced himself in Ojibwemowin, "Paul Benshoof indizhinikaaz, (My name is Paul Benshoof) Bemijigamaag indoonjibaa, (I am from Bemidji)
"We come together just before Thanksgiving again. Two cultures come together in these days of bad news in the world to make good news," said Benshoof. "To make further this simple yet powerful symbol, to me, affirms our respect for each other and for these four flags, the United States, Minnesota, Red Lake, and Leech Lake...that we speak in one voice. These courtrooms belong to all of our people."
"In a world so beset with ethnic violence of people killing each other because of different beliefs or different colors, today is a great example of how diverse cultures can work together in Bemidji," concluded Benshoof.
Benshoof then asked for two songs from the celebrated Drum Eyabay of Obaashiing (Ponemah). He then introduced Leech Lake elder and Spiritual Leader Larry Aitken by his Ojibwe name. Aitken provided a welcome and blessing, first in Ojibwe then in English.
"Today symbolizes a growing bond between these various governments," said Aitken. These four flags fly together in these courtrooms." Joe Day, a member of the Leech Lake Honor Guard aided Aitken in a short pipe ceremony, and then at Aitken's direction provided a smudge of sage for those present.
Benshoof stood at the podium again. "It's a simple act, really, the raising of two flags. But in this simple act, we burn a symbolic light." said Benshoof. "In this simple act, we honor and affirm our respect for one another. Today we gather together in this courtroom, two diverse cultures, two peoples coming together in this courtroom to honor each other and the connections that tie us."
"The Beltrami court system and two reservations come together today," said Leech Lake Chairwoman Carri Jones. "The flags being posted here show that the Leech Lake Band, Red Lake Nation and the Beltrami County judicial system are coming together for the betterment of our communities and the people that we serve. "The flag raising represents our three communities standing and working together as we all share similar values and goals. It shows a partnership and the respecting of our differences and our cultures."
"Today is history, we come together, we come to work together forever" said Red Lake Tribal Secretary Donald Cook. "I don't know all the judges here...thank god for that," Cook said to heavy laughter drawing attention to the first row of in black robed judges.
"Our Tribal Council passed a resolution to support this right away," said Cook. "We hope this will bring better relationship with Red Lake, Leech Lake, that we can live and work together. A lot of our people are incarcerated here and not given bail because they come from a reservation. Hopefully we can change that. We are a sovereign nation. We are proud of that, and we protect it. We work hard for our people and we look for a better tomorrow."
After the speeches, Benshoof asked the Leech Lake Honor Guard and Red Lake Veterans led by Red Lake District Representative to the Tribal Council, Robert Smith, to bring the colors into the courtroom to the drumbeat of Eyabay. After a flag song by the Drum, Red Lake and Leech Lake veterans posted the flags at the front of the courtroom.
Leech Lake flags have been in the courtrooms of Cass County at Walker, and in Itasca County at Grand Rapids for several years. According to Cass County Judge David F. Harrington, John Smith, then a judge in Walker, started it.
The ceremony then closed with a blessing from Red Lake Spiritual Advisor and Hereditary Chief Greeting Spears of Obaashiing. (Ponemah) "It is a lot of work, being a Chief and a Spiritual leader. We got to take care of the people...even when you get paid," said Spears with a smile. I do a lot of traveling, a lot of ceremony for the people." He then told the story of his vision, as the Chief often does.
A gift exchange between the three parties took place next. Jones gifted birch bark baskets with wild rice to Benshoof and Judge Shari Schluchter, Benshoof's co-host. Cook gifted Benshoof with a Red Lake logo medallion, and Schluchter a fisheries certificate.
Benshoof and Schluchter, gifted turtles made of pipestone to Cook and Jones. Before presenting the gifts, Benshoof recognizing that he might be being a bit presumptuous, told the Ojibwe flood story and role Turtle plays in it.
Schulchter then provided closing remarks and invited all to take the elevator to the basement jury waiting room for cake and coffee. The ceremony took about an hour and a half.