Red Lake Indian Reservation Rife With Poverty

The Indian reservation where 10 people died in a shooting spree Monday is located in a remote area of northern Minnesota, and is home to one of the poorest tribes in the state.

About 5,000 people live on the Red Lake Indian Reservation (search), almost all of them American Indians. The Red Lake Chippewa Tribe (search) itself has about 9,400 enrolled members.

The reservation is about 240 miles northwest of the Twin Cities (search), and the town of Red Lake is about 75 miles south of the Canadian border.

Nearly 39 percent of the families on the reservation live below the poverty line. Because the reservation is so remote, the tribe has largely missed out on the lucrative casino revenues that some other Minnesota tribes enjoy. The profits from its Seven Clans Casinos (search) in Red Lake, and off the main reservation in Warroad and Thief River Falls, pale compared with those earned by tribes closer to the Twin Cities.

That is why tribal leaders decided to join with two other tribal bands in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's (search) proposal for a joint state-tribal casino in the Twin Cities area, a proposal that is pending before the Legislature.

The tribe and the federal government have primary law enforcement authority on the reservation, and serious crimes that happen here are prosecuted in federal court instead of state court. The tribe can jail someone for only up to a year.

The reservation reduced its poverty rate during the 1990s, but more than four in 10 residents remained unemployed, according to census figures.

Outsiders are sometimes unwelcome on the reservation. Tribal police ordered reporters off the reservation after Monday's shootings, and nonmembers are not allowed to fish on any part of Lower Red Lake, or on most of Upper Red Lake. The two lakes make up a good chunk of the reservation.

In the winter of 2002, tribal conservation officers confiscated the plane of a pilot who landed on the frozen lower lake hoping to sample the phenomenal crappie fishing. It took him more than six weeks of negotiations, $4,000 in fines and another $2,000 in legal fees to get his plane back.

Most of the shootings happened at Red Lake High School, which has an enrollment of over 300 students, according to the school's Web site.

The school scored second-lowest out of all Minnesota schools last year on tests for 11th-grade math and third-lowest for 10th-grade reading, according to the state Department of Education.

And the department's report card on the school for last year said it failed to meet federal standards for reading or math. Four in five students were poor enough to be eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and other benefits, it said.