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Gathering recognizes elders’ contributions

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RED LAKE – The Third Annual Elders Gathering at the Red Lake Nation Seven Clans Casino Monday mixed frivolity with tradition and honors with fun.

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On the serious side, Spiritual Leader Eugene Stillday thanked the spirits of the four directions and Mother Earth for sustaining his people. On the wacky side, Shapey/Shaky Legs contestants danced and gyrated barelegged with the upper halves of their bodies hidden by a curtain. Audience members by their cheers indicated the winning pairs of legs.

Monday morning’s guest speaker was Red Lake Tribal Attorney Stacey Thunder. Thunder, who grew up in Columbia Heights, 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, and has starred for the last nine years in the television program “Native Report.”

“I just wrapped 122 episodes of the show,” Thunder said.

She said with her Thunder family name she experienced racism and name-calling as a tall, skinny kid in the metro area.

“That hurt me,” she said. “I take that and I put it into what I do now. I take a negative and turn it into a positive.”

As the oldest of seven children, she said she knew her parents had financial hard times, too. She said she knew education was the way out of those situations for her.

“I wanted to make sure when I grew up I would be set,” she said.

After law school, she signed on with Anishinabe Legal Services and said she felt she belonged for the first time.

In 2004, she said she was approached by another attorney about launching “Native Report” on WDSE Public TV out of Duluth. So, with no acting experience, she agreed to try. Now, they are planning their 10th season.

“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.”

She said the “Native Report” productions show the contributions Indians make to the country. “We are wonderful people,” she said. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done and very proud of what we could do.”

She said she is also proud to be a Red Lake Nation citizen and wants to lead young people into the same mindset.

“I have no trouble setting goals that are sky high and enjoy the ride getting there,” Thunder said.

Following the morning speaker’s presentation, Anayah Littlewolf performed piano pieces and Sonny Johnson played guitar and sang songs of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and his own compositions. And Red Lake Nation youth royalty danced to the songs and drumming of Young Kingbird led by Mark Kingbird. Powwow Emcee Vince Beyl introduced Sophie Barrett 2-year-old Tiny Tot jingle dancer; Christian Schoenborn Pre-K dancer; fourth-grader Bradley Barrett, a traditional dancer; Cherish Kingbird, fancy shawl dancer; Mark Kingbird, grass dancer; Alexis Desjarlait, jingle dancer; Destin Stormcloud, grass dancer; Sadie Kingbird, jingle dancer and Casey Smith, grass dancer.

Cheri Goodwin, Elders Gathering organizer, along with Tribal Councilmen Richard Barrett and Al Pemberton also recognized seven women who have served the Band for more than 40 years. Sharon Garrigon served 47 years, and Sandy Brown and Betty Schoenborn each served 45 years, at Red Lake Headstart. Rachelle Donnell and Ethel Smith served 42 and 44 years, respectively, at Red Lake Comprehensive Health. Lorraine Sayers served 46 years with Red Lake Law Enforcement. And Roxanne Johnson served 41 years with the Red Lake Tribal Credit Program.

Monday’s afternoon and evening programs included a healthy lifestyles presentation, entertainment by Native Pride Arts and black jack and cribbage tournaments.

The second day of the Elders Gathering will begin with 8 a.m. registration today at the Seven Clans Casino community room. Holly Cook Maccaro, a St. Thomas MBA graduate and Washington, D.C. lobbyist, will be the featured speaker. There will also be an Anna Gibbs skit, election of the Elder King and Queen and a talent variety show.

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