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Ojibwe News: Final edition circulated this month

On Sept. 14, the last Native American Press/Ojibwe News rolled off the Bemidji Pioneer press.

Dated Sept. 1, the banner read "FINAL ISSUE." The edition carried the usual mix of regional and national news involving American Indians: a story about the Mille Lacs Band; a Dakota Sioux elder starting a run from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Washington, D.C.; and a new gambling pact between the state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe.

Instead of Publisher Bill Lawrence's editorial, however, he wrote a lengthy farewell titled "A Warrior's Creed: Today is a Good Day to Die."

"These will be my last words, editorially speaking," Lawrence wrote.

Lawrence, 70, is in hospice care in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he is surrounded by close friends and family.

He had referred to his failing health in the August edition. Lawrence said a diagnosis of cancer has left him physically unable to do the work necessary to turn out a newspaper. He also cited the current economic recession and the expectation of the demise of the traditional newspaper industry. After 21 years, he said he has retired the Ojibwe News.

Lawrence and the Ojibwe News investigative journalists set as their mission exposure of corruption and illegal activities they observed in tribal governments. Lawrence, a Red Lake Band of Chippewa enrolled member, said he didn't like being referred to as "anti-Indian,'" but welcomed the reputation as "a muckraker or a contrarian."

Since starting his newspaper in 1988, Lawrence has engaged in relentless legal efforts to open the books of the state's 11 Indian casinos. His tireless work as a watchdog helped send several prominent tribal leaders to prison. Among his final works was a definitive series on the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome on the Indian community.

An athlete, U.S. Marine in Vietnam and lawyer, Lawrence entered journalism to challenge the tactics of Red Lake Reservation Chairman Roger Jourdain.

After earning a business degree at Bemidji State University, Lawrence joined the Marines in 1962 and served in Vietnam. After returning from the war, he attended law school at the University of North Dakota, worked as a taconite miner and returned to Red Lake as a development specialist.

He also served as a business manager of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe in Needles, Calif., and as a Bureau of Indian Affairs agent in Arizona. He returned to Minnesota to serve as the state's assistant director of Indian education in the 1970s and joined Honeywell in the early 1980s.

He ran unsuccessfully in 1970 for the Red Lake chairmanship against Roger Jourdain. He also ran and lost in a Republican bid to join the Minnesota House.

In 2003, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded Lawrence its Freedom of Information Award for his legal effort to make public audits of Indian casinos.