FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Horror and Hope at Red Lake Nation

by SCOTT RICHARD LYONS

There’s an old Ojibwe saying: Gego baapiineminaken gidaabinoojiiyug. Never laugh at your children. That motto invokes a sacred Anishinaabe value: manaaji’idiwin, or deep respect. We are to respect others, no matter how young or weak or strange, in part because what goes around eventually comes around. This especially holds true for children. Not only because they have power – as elders will tell you, the only person who ever tricked the Trickster was a child – but also because that child will one day be an adult.

I thought of this ancient Ojibwe wisdom when I heard about the horrifying and tragic school shooting at Red Lake Nation. It was reported that during the assault the shooter, Jeff Weise, was waving his arms and laughing.

Laughing.

Who, I wondered, had ever laughed at him?

This question of respect seems central to any understanding of the March 21 shooting. If we are to adequately comprehend this tragedy, we must approach the perpetrator, his victims and their tribal nation carefully and with utmost respect. So as we begin the process of mourning this sad, senseless event, let us be clear about one thing: at 16 years of age, Jeff Weise was still a child.

He was no monster, although some will doubtless say that he was. He was no Nazi, no matter how bizarre his Internet habits. He was not an ”Angel of Death,” a ”Red Lake Rampager” or a ”lost youth,” or any other gimmicky stereotype the media might cook up in the absence of understanding. Jeff was a child. Yes, deeply disturbed. And one who somehow lost all sense of manaaji’idiwin. Why?

I’m not going to pretend to know the reasons why an individual would pick up weapons and start shooting children. Does anyone ever figure out why these things happen? Did we ever discover the One True Cause of the Columbine killings?

These things are complicated – as complex and immense as life and death and teenagers themselves. There can never be one cause for events such as these, and we should distrust anyone who claims to have easy answers. There are, however, certain conditions to consider, certain questions to ask, if we hope to build a world in which such things never, ever happen. And in Ojibwe country, we do have hope for that world.

First, as we find on so many reservations today, Red Lake Nation is a community of poverty. Thirty-nine percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 4 out of 5 students at Red Like High School qualify for free or reduced lunch. And we know that poverty breeds violence. It just happens that way – there are no impoverished communities free of violence.

Furthermore, this condition of poverty is not reducible to any failings of the Red Lake people, but rather owes itself to a much larger and irrefutable history of colonialism. Who among us has acknowledged that gaping historical wound and the traumas it repeatedly engenders? Is it possible to understand this tragedy separate from the related contexts of colonialism and community poverty?

Second, Jeff was a visibly Indian teenaged male, which means he was part of the least-trusted, most-feared social group in northern Minnesota. Everyone who lives in that part of the country knows it, whether they admit it or not: Indian teenagers are generally viewed as a problem. This is not the fault of teens (as if they would do it to themselves). This is a problem with the larger society, and its name is racism.

What social institutions hold great promise and high expectations for Native teenagers? Schools? Businesses? Mass media? Government? No. As with other teens of color, in northern Minnesota Native kids are typically more feared than nurtured, more disdained than celebrated, and nearly always publicly discussed as carriers of problems, not potentials. One predictable result of this general lack of respect is low self-esteem. Little wonder that, as a Harvard study recently concluded, 1 out of 6 Native teenagers today has attempted suicide. Aside from perhaps family and friends, who in the larger society is acknowledging that their lives are worth living?

Third, Jeff had no problem getting past the security system that Red Lake already had in place at the school, including a metal detector and a security guard. Presumably the metal detector went off, and he shot the security guard. As many have already noted, Red Lake High School is one of the most ”secure” schools in the region, with towering fences and barbed wire circling the grounds. Can we now admit that excessive security systems at schools probably don’t work to prevent massacres like this one? Might we suggest that they could actually contribute to a sense of children feeling like prisoners?

Fourth, as with nearly all Americans, Jeff had easy access to weaponry.

Finally, perhaps most important of all, Jeff was raised in a larger and truly worrisome cultural context of American violence. I’m not talking about video games and movies, although these too are problematic. I’m referring to an America that repeatedly sends a clear and disturbing message to its citizens and children: namely, if you have a problem with somebody else, violence is the best way to solve it.

At 16, Jeff would have possessed no memory of an extended period of time when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in the practice of bombing some country it had a grievance with. During his most formative years, he saw this nation’s president abandon diplomacy and cooperation for ”bring it on” and ”shock and awe.” In this context, how can we reasonably expect Jeff Weise, or any teenager, not to consider armed violence an appropriate answer to life’s problems?

It will likely be concluded by politicians and pundits that this shooting was an isolated act of violence committed by a lost youth, and that we probably need greater security and harsher punishments for dangerous teens. But clearly it was not an isolated incident. It was a social incident. And Jeff was already subject to heightened security and harsh punishment – which don’t seem to have done any good.

Let us stay focused on the big picture, the social context in which children, including but not only Natives, are raised. From the very moment of his birth, Jeff’s life was defined by violence – the violence of community poverty, the violence of racism, the violence of little respect and few opportunities, the violence of guns, security systems, punitive politics and growing militarism. Until these acts of everyday violence are put to an end, how can we ever expect our children to live peacefully? How can we raise our children to treat themselves and others with manaaji’idiwin?

America needs a Peacemaker to emerge, and so does Native America.

One bright light during these dark days is the tremendous dignity with which Red Lake Nation, so honorably represented by Tribal Chairman Floyd ”Buck” Jourdain, is handling the crisis. In particular, Red Lake’s refusal to allow media vultures to harass the community was an act of great wisdom and foresight. The community is already reorganizing itself, and their spirit is strong. Red Lake will heal from this. And all of Indian country is behind them. There is courage and compassion and respect there – and where those virtues exist, so too does hope.

SCOTT RICHARD LYONS, Leech Lake Ojibwe, teaches writing, literature and Native American Studies at Syracuse University.

This article was originally published in Indian Country Today, March 23, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
stclair
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andrew Tillett-Saks
Labor’s Political Stockholm Syndrome: Why Unions Must Stop Supporting Democrats Like Clinton
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail