Tribal Chairman Balances Leadership, Fatherhood

Hours after the school shooting that devastated his reservation, Red Lake Tribal Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain (search) said the Indian tribe was in the midst of "the darkest days in the history of our people."

A week later, it grew darker still for Jourdain, when his teenage son was arrested in the shootings that left 10 people dead.

Authorities refused to say what role Louis Jourdain (search) may have played in the attack, but a government official who was briefed on the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity said prosecutors were contemplating charging the 16-year-old with conspiracy to commit murder. The official said authorities began investigating Jourdain after determining that he and the gunman had exchanged e-mails.

The arrest came as a surprise not only because of the prominence of the suspect's father, but because authorities had initially said the rampage appeared to be the work of single gunman — a 16-year-old loner who took his own life during the killing spree.

The tribal chairman issued a statement Tuesday in which he called his son "a good boy with a good heart, who never harmed anyone in his entire life."

"Last week, I spoke on behalf of the Red Lake Nation as its leader and a saddened member of this community. Today, I speak as a father," he said. "I know my son, and he is incapable of committing such an act. ... I strongly believe my son will be cleared of these charges."

The 40-year-old Jourdain took office about eight months ago, becoming the Red Lake Band of Chippewa's youngest-ever leader. During the campaign's final days, he jogged 80 miles through all the districts in the reservation — a place beset by poverty, alcoholism, suicide and despair — and talked openly about his 20 years of sobriety.

Jourdain grew up on the reservation in a tarpaper shack, with an outhouse and an outdoor woodpile to feed the furnace in northern Minnesota's brutal winters. His childhood was filled with days of chopping wood, hauling water and reading as many books as he could get his hands on.

"As a 5th grader I read everything in site," Jourdain wrote on his Web site. "I could spew a ton of useless information at kids that they would get sick of rather quickly."

Jourdain graduated from Red Lake High, the same school where five students, a security guard, and a teacher were shot to death by 16-year-old Jeff Weise (search) on March 21.

Jourdain and his future wife, Alberta, moved to Duluth, where he attended college and started to work in drug and alcohol recovery programs. On his Web site, Jourdain writes of becoming more interested in working with young people and helping to bridge the generation gap between the tribe's elders and its youth.

The Jourdains returned to the Red Lake Reservation (search) in the 1990s to raise their three sons — Louis, teenager Phillip, and Andrew, who was 3 during last year's campaign. A picture on Jourdain's Web site describes Louis as "my pride and joy."

Holly Cook, a tribal spokeswoman, said the elder Jourdain was with his family and would not be available for comment beyond the statement.

Jourdain, a youthful-looking man with muscular arms and a long black ponytail, has been the public face of the Red Lake reservation since the shootings.

"Our community is devastated by this event," an anguished-looking Jourdain said the day after the attack. "We have never seen anything like this in the history of our tribe, and without doubt these are the darkest days in the history of our people. We are in utter disbelief and shock."

Red Lake High principal Chris Dunshee said Louis had not been a discipline problem. "He was a pretty good student, to tell you the truth," Dunshee said.

He also praised the tribal leader as a parent. "I just feel sorry for Buck," he said. "If it could happen to his son, it could happen to anybody because Buck is a good parent."

Word of Louis Jourdain's arrest spread across the reservation on Monday, a day when many tribal members were attending funerals for three of Weise's victims. "The community itself is still in shock. I mean, I am," said Edward Cook, 47, a tow-truck operator.

Since becoming chairman, Jourdain has led the tribe in its negotiations with the state of Minnesota in what would be an unprecedented partnership to open a casino in the Twin Cities, with a goal of helping the tribe climb out of poverty.

"Join me as we step into a new leadership together," Jourdain wrote days before the election. "A vote for me is a vote for a refreshing new change for the Red Lake Nation."