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The path ahead: Officials outline future plans at Red Lake's State of the Band address

Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. speaks Friday during the State of the Band at Seven Clans Casino. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Members of the Red Lake royalty take part in the State of the Band Friday at Seven Clans Casino. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 3
Members of the color guard take part in the State of the Band Friday at Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 3

RED LAKE—In a packed room in the Seven Clans Casino at Red Lake Nation, tribal leaders talked about problems facing the band—and plans in the works to improve members' lives.

Like the drug epidemic that's "inundated" the Ojibwe band's court system and prompted tribal leaders in 2017 to adopt a protocol to banish drug dealers. Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., said it's difficult to banish a tribal member.

"But it needs to be done because they're poisoning you," he said.

Or children who only get regular meals at school or at the Boys and Girls Club there.

"We need to do more for youth," said Secretary Sam Strong. "We need to recognize that there's a gap in service for our children."

Or "blood quantum," the controversial measurement of "Indian blood" by which many American Indians enjoy tribal membership. Strong called it "mathematical genocide" and described a proposal to count everyone on Red Lake's 1958 membership rolls and their descendents as "full blood," a move that would let the band enroll many people who are close to being tribal members.

"These people are resources for the future," Strong said to an audience that included U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn, and a host of Bemidji and Red Lake-area movers and shakers. Smith, who later met with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe staff and officials, said she was "full of hope" for what she and the assembled leaders can do together. Smith also is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Seki and Strong described a range of projects and infrastructure the band is working on that could result in myriad economic, health, or cultural benefits: a new grocery and convenience store, a job fair, a chemical dependency treatment center, new fire halls and ambulances, a tribal radio station, a dialysis center, an expanding system of solar panels, a program to develop and recruit nursing assistants for the band's chemical health department and a new homeless shelter.

Seki said every tribe was impacted by the federal government shutdown, blame for which he placed squarely on President Donald Trump.

"We weathered the storm," Seki said, but the band is still recovering as the federal government gets back up to speed. He described the shutdown as a blatant violation of treaties between American Indian tribes and the federal government, which didn't provide the services or payments mandated by them while it was shuttered earlier this winter. Seki drew applause when he called for legislation to send tribal appropriations in advance, which he said would ease the financial crunch during a potential future shutdown.

Seki also called for unity among band members.

"Starting today, be kind and love one another," he said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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