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Red Lake Nation: Family, friends say goodbye to Billy Blake

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak praises the accomplishments of the late Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Blake during a funeral Friday at the Red Lake Humanities Center. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron1 / 3
Scores of police officers from various jurisdictions gathered with hometown mourners Friday in Red Lake for the funeral of Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Blake. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron2 / 3
Sgt. William Blake3 / 3

RED LAKE -- A man of vision, valor and eloquence - these are some of descriptions used in the eulogies for Sgt. William Blake Friday.

Blake, 45, whose Ojibwe name is Chi Ma'iingan, (Big Wolf), was a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Minneapolis Police Department. He died Saturday at the University on Minnesota Heart Hospital. A funeral was held Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Paul. On Thursday, his body was escorted by fellow police officers from many jurisdictions - all flying miniature Red Lake flags from their antennas and flashing their light bars - to the Red Lake Humanities Center for a wake in his homeland, followed by a funeral and burial Friday. Red Lake flags were lowered to half staff for Blake's funeral.

Scores of police officers, most with their badges covered with mourning tape, filed by Blake's coffin Friday for a final salute as a drum group sang honor songs. The officers were followed in the final farewell by hundreds of other admirers gathered at the Humanities Center.

Resting in his coffin in uniform, holding a rosary and eagle feather, Blake was flanked by a verse from Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight."

The Rev. Joe Richards celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial, and Deacon Tony McDonald delivered a sermon.

"Every once in a while, a young man or young lady comes to realize their gifts in life," McDonald said. "If there ever was an example, a role model, for our young people, especially here on the Red Lake Nation, he was an example."

Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. expressed thanks "to everyone who brought this warrior home to us."

Jourdain cited Blake's dedication to combating the violence, drugs and gangs that have afflicted American Indians.

"Our ogichidaag - warriors - they always move to the front," Jourdain said. "They sacrifice so we can be safe. We'll carry on that mission. We'll do what we need to do to make sure that vision is not lost."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was also among the many attending the funeral Friday who spoke of Blake's accomplishments. He said when Blake joined the force in 1992, the city was so dangerous it was dubbed Muderopolis.

"What Bill did was go out in the neighborhoods and talk to people ... and build a bridge," Rybak said.

He said Blake brought people, both Indians and non-Indians together to work for peace. The best thing to do now is find ways to continue Blake's work, Rybak said.

"Thank you for sharing this extraordinary man with us," Rybak said.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Mike Sauro was among several police officers who also offered eulogies.

Sauro said when Blake started with the force, he worked in the Third Precinct, home to the largest urban Indian population in the United States Sauro said. Blake earned early promotion to sergeant, many commendations and life-saving awards.

Sauro said Blake also earned the Medal of Valor when he was having lunch at a restaurant out of uniform when two men entered the restroom and came out wearing ski masks and brandishing guns. Blake pulled his own service pistol and was able to interrupt the mayhem in a shootout.

Sauro said Blake, along with some other officers, is credited with reducing crime by 50 percent in Minneapolis public housing. Blake became an Indian gang expert, a Police Athletic League mentor, and an emergency response hostage negotiator. He formed the Native American Law Enforcement Seminar (NALES) and Indian Crime Awareness Research and Evaluation (I-CARE) for tribes to share crime data.

"Billy died on duty because he gave his heart away," Sauro concluded.