Red Lake Indian Reservation Mission Trip 2018 Reflection

by The Rev. Teresa Seagle, School Chaplain

On July 22, 2018, we set off for Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. The team of 16 included 13 upper school students and 3 chaperones – Teresa Seagle, Greg Hersey, and Carolyn Tuttle. We were not sure what to expect but were eager to serve the Native Americans in Red Lake in any way we were asked.

While at Red Lake Indian Reservation, we worked in small teams to complete work projects at residents’ homes and an animal shelter, played bingo with residents at an assisted living facility, and played with children at a summer camp. We also brought donations of school supplies and backpacks for the Native American children which we distributed to more than 70 children on the reservation.

Living on the reservation for a week opened our eyes to the plight of the Obijwe band of the Chippewa tribe. Red Lake Indian Reservation is only one of two closed reservations, meaning their land has never been owned or governed by the United States. As a people who have struggled to maintain their identity and culture, they have struggled with extreme poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, and lack of education. Their high school graduation rate is less than 30%. Few of those go on to higher education (less than 1.5% of the adults go to college). Over 80% of the children born on the reservation are addicted to drugs. The suicide rate is well beyond our national average. Many houses do not have electricity or running water. There are very few elderly people left on the reservation. The only community with a lower life expectancy in the western hemisphere is Haiti.

Even with these conditions and circumstances, we found such joy in forming and building relationships with those we met on the reservation. One of our groups met Ms. Hilda while we painted her house, front and back porches, and mowed and cleaned up her yard. Ms. Hilda is an elderly woman who was born and raised at Red Lake. She has many health problems, but is well cared for by the people on the reservation. She was so grateful to our team and their hard work.

Another team spent time at Rosie’s Rescue. Karen, who runs the animal shelter, has a heart to change the lives of neglected and abused animals on the reservations. We saw many animals who were starving and/or were changed up with heavy chains as well as many dogs with mange and other diseases. The number of stray dogs and cats is indescribable. This year Karen hopes to rehabilitate over 850 animals on the reservation while leading spay and neuter efforts on the reservation. Our team helped clean dog kennels and clean cat cages. They helped walk animals as well as mow and weed several acres of land. They came back with many stories about the animals they fell in love with at Rosie’s Rescue.

We were extremely proud of our team that went to Leslie’s house. Leslie also has lived her entire life on the reservation. The yard was full of trash and overgrown. The team picked up 45 bags of cans and trash in one day! They also cut down much undergrowth, mowed the lawn, and pulled up many weeds and cleared much debris. They cleared a path to a creek in her backyard which Leslie had had many fond memories of in her younger years. Leslie was overwhelmed by the work of our team, who cleaned up her property after years of neglect.

All of our team was able to meet and play with kids at the Kid’s Club. The kids ranged in age from 3 to 11. Without the summer camp, many of the kids would have been home alone finding things to do over the summer break. We loved packing the backpacks full of donations and handing them out on our last day at Kid’s Club. The Native American children loved our ESJ students. They were playing together on the playground, playing basketball and soccer, and doing arts and crafts. Many of the children on the reservation had behavioral issues, but our team showed God’s love through their compassion, patience, and inexhaustible energy.

Our ESJ team also bonded during our mission trip. Through this shared experience of serving in this community, praying and worshiping together, and even our travel woes, brought our team close together. We are grateful for the experience to learn and grow in a community that we did not know much about before going to Red Lake. We look forward to our next opportunity to serve.