By Mary Balstad
Lakeland News 

State of the Band: Red Lake Nation Sees Growth in Previous Year


March 14, 2023

The Red Lake Nation saw highs and lows in 2022.

Despite the challenges, the community saw progress, growth and unity. These were the main themes throughout the Red Lake State of the Band Address held on March 10 at the Oshkiimahjitahdah building in Redby.

With many communities feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Lake Nation reflected on how their community continually dealt with its side effects while looking at the progress made. With the American Rescue Plan Act dollars granted from the federal government, Red Lake was able to provide not only financial security for many of its members but also for promising programs for the future.

Tribal Treasurer Vernelle Lussier said with the awarded $101 million in ARPA funds, 70% have already been used. The remaining is planned to be granted to members under 18-years-old.

Along with giving pandemic relief checks to their members, the Red Lake tribal government also worked on new and existing buildings. These included renovations to the casino hotel and the Red Lake Nation College. Newer buildings in the Red Lake community include the tribe's radio station WRLN, the immersion charter school, and the community center. But some of these projects have hit obstacles, as the tribal leaders needed to scale down on the intended plans due to inflation.

Regardless, these projects are just the start to serve the entire Red Lake community.

Other programs that Red Lake took part in include the Tiwahe program, which focuses on the health and wellbeing of families in the community. Red Lake was one of six tribes in the pilot program. This program also saw success in preventing youth suicides.

Another project that grew during 2022 was the Tribal Energy Development Program. Started in the mid-2010s, the tribe has implemented solar panels on many buildings. They plan to continue down this path of green energy by installing the panels on buildings like the school.

Tribal Chairman Darrell G. Seki Sr. said this initiative will bring business to Red Lake through the upcoming Red Lake Tribal utility while also protecting the tribal members from the harms of climate change.

Finally, the band saw the opening of its new medical marijuana dispensary. After 81% of the band voted for the program, the medical cannabis program in Red Lake will serve both members and non-members.

This approach is not only medical but holistic, as mentioned by Tribal Secretary Samuel Strong. It is another path toward recovery.

But, with the success of 2022 came challenges as well.

The Red Lake Nation has expanded its response to overdoses due to the exponential rise in fentanyl trafficking to the reservation. Tribal leaders have even talked with U.S. District Attorney Andrew Luger on how they plan to address this growing issue.

But Red Lake Chemical Health Program Executive Director Tom Barrett reported that there have already been four overdoses in the area since the start of 2023. And, despite seeing a dip in numbers during 2020, 2021 and 2022 saw a drastic rise in drug-related activity.

While the Red Lake Nation still face difficult challenges, leaders look toward options of recovery and protecting the future of the band.

Current tribal leaders are even taking an issue to the federal level as they look to restore the portion of Upper Red Lake that is not part of the current reservation boundaries.

The address saw county commissioners, Bemidji city council members and representatives from the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office in attendance.


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