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After Tragedy, Turmoil on Reservation

As the investigation into the Red Lake High shootings grows, so do the strains on parents and on the tribal leader's lines of loyalty.

April 03, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

In the 1970s, Indian activism and civil unrest was on the rise across the country. Political feuds and complaints over corruption within the Red Lake government led to five armed men taking over the reservation's police station in 1979. Two teenagers were killed and a number of buildings destroyed, including Roger Jourdain's house.

The violence continued through the 1980s, said Floyd Jourdain, who has said he and friends struggled with alcohol and drugs. When he graduated from Red Lake High School in 1984, he moved to Duluth and spent some time in the Minneapolis area, taking college classes and volunteering at drug recovery programs. He also worked with the American Indian Movement in Minneapolis.

By the time Floyd Jourdain returned to Red Lake in the 1990s, Roger Jourdain had been voted out of office and was dependent on government benefits. He died in 2002 at age 89.

The drug trade -- including marijuana, crack cocaine and methamphetamine -- emerged as a dominant, though illicit, employer at the reservation, according to former and current law enforcement officials.

Alcohol abuse is prevalent. An independent review of the Red Lake Tribal Court issued last year found that there were nearly 1,200 cases of violent or alcohol-related criminal cases involving juveniles in 2003.

Drive-by shootings, including at police officers' homes, were commonplace. So were robberies. In 2002, a woman broke into the home of George Stately, a 68-year-old member of the tribe. She beat the elderly man with a hammer, slit his throat and set his house on fire -- to get $50 worth of crack cocaine.

Floyd Jourdain said the drug and crime problems convinced him to run for chairman last year.

During the campaign, say friends and family members, his son Louis would hang out with Jeffrey Weise. The pair became close friends after Weise returned from Minneapolis to his grandparents on the reservation in 1999, when his mother was severely injured in a drunk-driving accident. Weise's grandfather was a veteran tribal police officer.

"They weren't jocks, so they were seen as separate," said Bill Lawrence, publisher of the Native American Press/Ojibwe News and a godson of Roger Jourdain's. "They had spent part of their lives off the reservation, so they were seen as outsiders. When [Floyd Jourdain] won the election, they both had parent figures who made a good salary and were well known. They both had enough money to own computers in the house and pay for an Internet connection at home."

Authorities declined to say what role Louis Jourdain may have played in last month's killings at the high school. But sources familiar with the investigation and speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators had found evidence against him in e-mails, archived copies of instant messages and other electronic documents between the two young men.

Floyd Jourdain, who said he wouldn't resign unless the public wanted him to leave, insists his son is innocent.

"His only crime is being friends with [Weise]," he said.

But residents say their loyalties are torn by grief and fear.

On Friday, a group of teachers and grief-stricken parents gathered for a school board meeting at Red Lake to get the latest news. The room was still as Red Lake Police Capt. Dewayne Dow told the crowd that other students might have been involved.

"We need to make sure there's no one else," Dow told one group of parents afterward. "I wish I could tell you more. We're still trying to figure things out."

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