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Pioneer Editorial: Committed to their communities

The past few weeks have seen a silencing of some powerful voices in our communities.

Eli Hunt, 60, of Walker, past chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, passed away the first week of March. Hunt remained active even after his time as chairman passed, and those around him described him as generous and always an advocate for the tribe.

"I always remember Eli being a very sincere individual," current Leech Lake Tribal Chairwoman Carri Jones said. "He always cared about the community and people in the band. He was a real genuine guy."

Donald "Dudie" May, 58, died on March 8 at a rural Red Lake home. May was a member of the Red Lake Tribal Council, a position he had held since 2004. At a service Friday at Red Lake, family and friends remembered a man dedicated to Red Lake.

"He didn't just care about one district; he cared about every district," said Floyd "Buck" Jourdain, Red Lake tribal chairman and a cousin of May. "He was always strong and he was there for the people. It's a huge, huge loss to our tribe, but we're going to carry on."

Last week also saw the passing of Gary Burger, 70, a noted musician and community mainstay in Turtle River. Many knew Gary from his time with the band The Monks, which gained international fame in the 1960s. However, Burger was much more than that to the community; he was the longtime mayor of Turtle River, and to the local arts scene, where he helped many local musicians get on the map. His home studio was the place to get recorded for locals.

"I just wonder how many bands would not have had the opportunity to record had Gary not been there," long-time friend Mike Tangen said. "What Gary was able to do for the music scene in this northern Minnesota area is almost unfathomable."

While theirs were not the only voices to be quieted in recent weeks, the trio does strike a chord for many. It is people like Hunt, May and Burger that define what the Bemidji area is about. They exemplify what it means to lead, whether out front politically or behind-the-scenes.

Their care and commitment to their local communities will not be forgotten.