Red Lake Hosts Navajo Youths

I spent Friday on the Red Lake Indian Reservation with organizers and kids participating in a youth cultural learning camp. Six Navajo students from Arizona and their advisor, Patrick Blackwater from Diné College in Tsaile, Ariz., were at Red Lake to learn about Aniishiinabe culture and traditions and at the same time, share their lifestyles with their Red Lake counterparts.

Youths from the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota and the Navajo Nation in Arizona gather on the shoreline of Lower Red Lake in Ponemah, Minn., on Friday during the Chief Meskokonaye Youth Cultural Learning Camp. The Red Lake kids hosted six Navajo youths and their adviser, Patrick Blackwater, for the four-day camp, and the Arizona delegation is scheduled to fly out of Grand Forks this morning for their trip home. (Brad Dokken photo)

Darwin Sumner of Red Lake, Minn., launched the Chief Meskokonaye Youth Cultural Learning Camps 20 years ago as a way to help young people on the reservation learn about the outdoors and native traditions.

“The kids, if they don’t have things to do, they’re going to find other things — probably stuff that would get them into trouble,” Sumner said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have anyone to show me anything.”

Chief Meskokonaye — “Red Robe” — was Sumner’s great-grandfather, and a statue of the Indian leader can be found in Thief River Falls.

The most recent camp, one of more than 15 Sumner offers throughout the year, was supposed to be a berry picking camp, but there are no blueberries this year, so the exchange with the Arizona youths focused more on fishing and massive Red Lake.

Adding to the challenge of the four-day camp were thunderstorms Friday morning and Friday night, the second one severe enough to chase the kids from camp for the shelter and safety of Sumner’s home.

During Friday morning’s rain delay, the kids also toured the Red Lake Nation Foods fish packing plant in Redby, Minn., and visited communities on the reservation to learn about the history of the area. Despite their geographic differences, participants said the two tribes also shared many similarities.

I’ll have a full story on the cultural learning camp and my day with the kids on Sunday’s Herald Outdoors pages.