27 March 2005


These are wise words. Please, read and learn...

Megwitch --ryan

Gego Baapiineminaken Gidaabinoojiiyug

Posted: March 23, 2005
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

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


Who, I wondered, had 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

Furthermore, this condition of poverty is not
reducible to any failings of the Red Lake people, but
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 teenage 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
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 importantly, 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

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 Jr., 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.


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