Last week we published our first story in a series of articles about the ongoing problems of crime, violence, drugs, gangs and alcohol in northern Mille Lacs County, particularly in the reservation community.
It’s an effort we should have undertaken years ago but have been avoiding, mainly out of reluctance to tackle difficult stories with sources sometimes unwilling to cooperate.
I’ve made this statement in numerous blog posts and conversations over the last two years, but never in this space: If what’s happening among the youth of the Mille Lacs Band were happening in any similar-sized community in Minnesota, it would be a statewide emergency.
At least seven young Mille Lacs Band members have been killed by drugs, violence or alcohol over the last 18 months. Several others have been lucky to survive shootings, stabbings and alcohol-related crashes. Dozens have been arrested for drugs, DWI, burglary, assault, attempted murder or murder.
Some Band members are afraid to go for a walk in their own neighborhoods, afraid to leave their house empty for the weekend, and afraid to testify in court against those accused of crimes.
In any other community of similar size, it would be cause for serious reflection and investigation, and leading the charge would be the local paper. I’ll be the first to admit we’ve shirked our responsibility.
Frankly, it’s awkward for a paper owned and operated by non-Indians to take a frontal approach to this subject. We’ll certainly be criticized, as we already have been, for shining a light on some of the negative aspects of reservation life. But as journalists, we believe that more information is always better than less, and that facing the facts is always better than denying them.
In addition, many of our readers are Band members, and we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t address problems in their community with the same straightforward diligence as we would in any other community.
Some will argue that all communities suffer from these problems, that they are not limited to the reservation. That is certainly true. Isle, Onamia, Brainerd and Milaca have their share of crime, domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism.
However, as this week’s story on page 1 shows, the crime in the Vineland area is out of proportion to the number of residents, and we all pay the price.
The odds that a Band member in Vineland will be the victim of a crime are far greater than those for Isle, Onamia or Garrison residents. That’s just wrong, and it’s our job not only to report what’s happening, but to ask the relevant questions: What are the causes and effects of crime, drug abuse and violence? What is being done in response? Are there other solutions to consider?
Some Band members feel like their leaders are not doing enough to combat the problems, but the Band government is taking action, and we’ll be reporting on those efforts.
It’s our hope that putting the situation in historical context, telling the stories of victims and offenders, and discussing possible solutions will have a positive effect on the entire Mille Lacs area.
Rest assured that we will balance our coverage with positive stories from the reservation, as we always have and always will.
Too many children have been lost to jail, drugs, alcohol and even murder. Too many of our neighbors are tired of gunshots, tired of vandalism, tired of mobsters who have sullied the term “native.”
It’s time for all of us — Band members and non, government officials, churches, businesses, schools — to put our efforts and attention toward addressing these problems.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.