A year ago, I spent Memorial Day at the Spirit Lake Nation. Usually, visiting the grave sites of my relatives happens throughout the year, but these relatives were from my mom's side and this trip was made for that reason. My mom is an enrolled member of the tribe, whose headquarters are located in Fort Totten, North Dakota.
Much of the weather on that Memorial Day, I remember, consisted of overcast skies. Rain apparently trickled off my face as I walked through the St. Michael cemetery located on the reservation.
Not far from the burial grounds I often looked in the direction where two young children died of a violent nature in their father's home the week before. The home was boarded up and and an old mattress lay on the lawn of where the two children once played. This same location is where a young woman took her life a few years earlier.
As I walked through the cemetery, I looked at several headstones of people I knew. One in particular was a young woman I was friends with back in the early eighties. She committed suicide at a very young age. I know of other friends who also went on to the Great Spirit World. They are buried at other locations on the Spirit Lake reservation.
For many of us who believe in our traditional ways, a home awaits us when our time comes to leave this world. "A happy home" is where we will go -- that's what my elders have told me on numerous occasions. Knowing this gives me comfort when I have to leave mother earth and share my eternity with many of my relatives and ancestors.
As I thought of these two children on that wet, rainy day last year, I knew they would never have to live in this world where violence plays a role in so many situations, whether it be on reservations or not.
Though there may be many positive happenings in Indian communities, we are often struck by the violence that takes place. The deaths of two young beautiful children showed the bad side of what can take place in today's society.
When such tragedies takes place, communities come together and console family members. We learn more from the surrounding circumstances of how our people have passed on and more often, some discussion centers around how we could have prevented such violence.
The recent headlines in The New York Times has labeled the reservation as one with an serious epidemic. An opening line read, "Federal and state officials say they have documented glaring flaws in the child welfare system at the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota, contending that while child abuse there is at epidemic levels, the tribe has sought to conceal it."
It is an eye opening gesture when a national news source comes to the reservation. Prior reports in local and statewide news sources also disclosed this same information over the past year. Noted was the violent nature of their deaths and that their bodies may have been left in the house for several days.
In this incident, the truth may never come out.
A comprehensive review of the tribe's social services will happen when a social worker from the Bureau of Indian Affairs provides some oversight and technical assistance. The community there should come together and discuss the recent events with all the appropriate officials involved.
As more interaction takes place among tribal leaders, government officials and the greater community, a solution to the tribe's problem's could be implemented. A collaborative effort could help correct some of the reservation's flaws.
Our ancestors held feasts, ceremonies, pow-wows and other events to address important issues. Tribes do the same today as we practice our rich culture and heritage.
The next time I go to the Spirit Lake Nation, I'll put some flowers down at the grave sites of those two little children. I know they are in a good place now.
The place where they are at ... I know they are happy.
Delvin Cree is a columnist/writer for The Tribal Independent,
an alternative on-line news source for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Cree is also a contributor to the tribe's newspaper The Turtle Mountain Times
and Indianz.com, a national news source
for American Indians.
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