The media frenzy is subsiding. They heard the explosion, came running, found little to photograph and few with whom to speak, and now are moving on. Somewhere another explosion is being heard. And now, ever so slowly, Red Lake is left to the long task of healing.
You have done the right thing, Red Lake. You have closed your doors. This was not an issue requiring national scrutiny, like a war carried on in all our names. This is a private issue, a private mourning, a deeply personal grieving. No one, news media or otherwise, has a right to intrude upon it.
Grief does not have a common shape. It is private for each of us, taking us where it will and demanding of us what it must. The good and honorable among us must bear distant witness, offering solace when it is needed, assistance when it is asked.
The media cannot do this, no matter how goodhearted the individuals who carry on their lives within it may be.
You owed them nothing. And you gave them nothing.
But they did not understand.
There is nowhere else in this land, save several other closed reservations, where they would not have had the right to demand access. Anywhere else they could have knocked on doors, camped out in neighbors’ yards, set up cameras on nearby rooftops. But you confined them to a single state road — the only place on which they had the right to drive on the reservation — and you allowed your people to grieve in private, free from their intrusion.
And they went crazy. They combed the shops and the malls and the college campuses and social service agencies in nearby Bemidji for anyone who had ever been on the rez or had an ounce of Indian blood or was willing to speak in any capacity whatsoever on the tragedy they had come to cover and which you so rightly chose to keep from view. “Give us a story,” they said. “We need a story.”
Well, here’s a story. In 1863, near Red Lake Falls 60 miles away, with soldiers camped around them on the hillsides and winter coming on, your great grandfathers’ grandfathers were forced to sell away a large portion of your land or risk being hanged.
In 1889, alongside the small creek running in the draw between the tribal offices and the trading post, just down the road from your school that now is filled with bloodstains and bulletholes and the echoes of screams, your grandfather’s grandfathers were forced to sign away much of what was left.
But your grandfathers perservered, and your fathers and mothers perservered, and they refused to give up any more of your land. And they resisted allotment, the practice of dividing up the reservation into individual plots of land for individual families, so their reservation was never carved up into “40 acres and a mule” pieces that could be cajoled and purchased and threatened away by white people seeking to own the land for their own.
And now it has come down to you, the parents and children, whole and
undisturbed, a private place of sanctuary and solace, where all who
have their roots here can always return.
It is owned by all, shared by all, kept in sacred trust for all.
And one cannot help but wonder if the ancestors who fought so hard to keep this expanse of forest and lakes free for their you and your children did not have some dim presentiment that the time would come when the land would once again need to protect and nourish you.
That time is now.
You, unlike the rest of us, can close your doors to share your grief. You can take the healing rituals, kept alive by the tribal elders and practiced so often before at the funerals of family and friends, and use them to heal the whole community.
You can bring the children who have sat at their grandmothers’ knees making jingle dresses for the powwows, you can take the young boys who stand longingly around the powwow drum while their older brothers sing the haunted ululations that have been taught to them by the elders, and you can embrace these children in a healing circle that reaches across the great Red Lake and through the forests and into every home that sits on this land that was given you as your own.
And, no, you reporters cannot go in. You would see the eagle flying overhead and see it as a symbol or a metaphor, not a message from the spirit world that someone is watching. You would see the people placing cigarettes in a plate at the wakes and understand it as a quaint ritual, not as the gift of the earth that when lit, rises up to the heavens.
You would become the observer, and in so doing, make them become the
observed. They do not need to be observed now. They need to enter into the rituals, only half understood, only partly believed, and turn to them for healing.
They need to embrace each other, to find a way to make the family of the shooter one with the family of the victims. They need to take the remnant that is their people, and make it whole.
They cannot simply move away to another place if the grief is too
great, not without losing something of who they are. For they are of this piece of land, and always will be.
Now that land is stained with blood. They must be allowed to find a way to heal and hallow that bloodstained earth. It is where they are, it is who they are, it is who they always will be. That is the gift that was given them by their ancestors, and that is the burden they now bear.
It is not ours to watch. It is not ours to understand. It is only ours to respect and bear silent witness, and to pray in our own way that this dark crime of children killing children will not be soon be visited upon any of us again.