If you are not from Red Lake and have not visited the Red Lake Trading Post, set aside a day and drive to Red Lake. Stop at the Trading Post, have a sandwich, look around and buy some groceries. After you have visited the Trading Post, go to the Red Lake Nation foods store and pick up some jams and jellies or wild rice. If you don’t know where it is, ask at the Trading Post. You may also want to stop at the Redby Fishery and buy some fresh fish.
Red Lake has had a trading post for well over 100 years. I believe the old one sat pretty much where the current trading post sits. There’s a lot of new construction going on in Red Lake. Although winter is not a good time to see things, especially this year with its high snow banks, you can see how Red Lake continues to show signs of substantial progress.
I recently had a book signing at the Trading Post on a Friday when every one was getting ready to hunker down for the storm. The Trading Post was a buzz of activity.
Going to Red Lake is always enjoyable for me and I am happy to have an office in the old BIA building. I see a lot of friends and many former students. I don’t recognize some but they point me out to their kids and say, “There’s my old principal.” I don’t get upset about the word “old,” I just think about my experience in South America where calling someone old or “viejo” is a term of endearment, which, by the way, is what my granddaughter calls me.
I brought along an old yearbook from 1986, which was my second year at Red Lake High School. It was fun watching people look through it to find classmates and relatives. They were saddened to see a picture of someone who was no longer with us, but happy to see fellow classmates who were doing good things.
As I was looking through the yearbook with them, so many beautiful faces, I again was reminded that all of the kids possessed whatever it took to graduate from high school. All of them possessed talents and gifts, given by the Creator, to do whatever they chose to do. It’s the same today with other schools in our county and it was the same in my school when I graduated in 1961. The choice was ours to make.
I spoke recently with someone who didn’t graduate on time but graduated a few years later and obtained her GED, which, I said, was perfectly fine. I learned a long time ago that one of the great injustices perpetrated by our school system is that we assume everyone learns at the same rate and we proceed to break time down into years, semesters, quarters and periods. There is way too much emphasis on schedules and, yes, we have things like “credit recovery,” where students can catch up and which does help many students. Nevertheless, I am waiting for a school in Minnesota that has no schedule, no time periods, no clocks and no bells.
Everyone has heard about “Indian time.” It’s used more in jest than anything else. Here’s the truth about “Indian time.” It’s more right than wrong when it comes to student learning. “Indian time” implies that we’ll begin when we are ready to begin and we’ll end when everyone is ready to end. That’s very much the way we learn.
Some kids aren’t ready to read at first grade or second grade. We shouldn’t get too upset. Studies have shown that when kids are ready to read, they catch up. And, when the bell rings at 10 a.m. and the art class is over, some kids aren’t ready to leave their drawing, they are just getting started.
The person I was talking about earlier would have done a lot better in a system that was more flexible with time. There were many obstacles in her way but she was undaunted and plowed through them to earn her GED. That is a profile in courage and resilience. I know of many students who did the same thing.
All of those people looking through the yearbook, recalling happy times, have children and grandchildren. We talked about our kids and what we hope for them. All of them said they were committed to having their kids graduate from high school because they know what that means today. If every adult at Red Lake and in every community in Beltrami County had that same commitment, we could graduate, for example, everyone of the 165 third graders in Red Lake.
When the old, old Red Lake Trading Post was around at the turn of the 20th Century, school wasn’t really that important. Perhaps, that was one of many reasons why Native people were resistant to it. They ran away from boarding schools, resisted Missionaries, and when public schools were made available, the “stay in school” rates were abysmally low. Times have changed and learning today is more important than ever before.
Like the trading post of old, the new trading post is a gathering place. I can’t say I sold too many books, but seeing lots of familiar faces and talking about the importance of graduating made up for lack of sales. The Red Lake Trading Post will be around long after I am gone and I am hopeful that all those 165 Red Lake third graders will graduate.
See you at the Red Lake Trading Post. I will be the one with the yearbook.
Riddle: If you had to swallow a pill every half hour and you have three pills to swallow, how long would it take? (Answer: one hour. For example you swallow a pill at 2:00, 2:30 and 3:00. That’s one hour.) This is what learning does for you. It makes you think.
Thanks to Bemidji Snow Removal, Bernard Green Auctions and Darrell’s Auto Glass, we now have 356 organizations committed to helping children graduate. You can help by:
- Limiting the sugar intake for kids.
- Make sure they get to the dentist regularly.
- Make sure kids get 8 to 9 hours sleep.
- Show them pictures of yourself in your old yearbook.
You can buy my recent book, “Remember to Hug Your Grandma” at Lueken's North, Harmony Foods or the Woolen Mills. All proceeds go to support the 100% movement.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.