This article was submitted by an anonymous Mille Lacs Band Elder who wants to share his memories with the hope that he will encourage Band members today.
We’d sit on the floor of our community center gym from 7 to 10 p.m. It was 1973. We had a basketball, a volleyball, and a lot of room. Maybe 10 of us would be there, or 15 on a really busy night. There was a jukebox with all the latest tunes. Bubba Smith was our rec supervisor. He was a cool guy — nice, peaceful. There was never any fighting. That was not our way.
Then one day, a guy we all knew started coming by on Saturdays in the RBC (Reservation Business Committee) van that he would rent. He would say, ”Jump into the van if you want to do something different this winter.” We asked, ”What will we do?” He said, ”Ya’ll want to learn how to ski?” and we yelled ”Yes!” He opened the doors and said, ”Get in!” We did, and off we went.
There was lots of snow — up to our hips. Sometimes the drifts were up to our noses. Well, maybe not that deep, but at least four feet deep. The roads were plowed to Brainerd and then further on to a place called Gull Mountain. The ski rental package was $5 for the day, and the ski lift tickets were free. And up the hill the rope would pull us.
We never asked where the money came from, but there was a way of collecting money for fun activities. It is from a long time ago and from an old way. It may sound silly, but it was called a ”basket social.”
Just picture our Elders who were so young back then. Maybe your grandparents or your great grandparents. People like Art Gahbow, Henry James, George Pendagayosh, Lorraine Weous, Dan Bugg, Shirley Boyd, and David Smith, to name a few.
This is how it would go. Every family had someone who could cook something real good that tasted delicious. Georgianna Day was the best cook! She had been the cook at our old school. Shirley Boyd’s wild rice hotdish. Panji Gahbow’s spare ribs. Lucy Bugg’s mac and tomato dish.
Someone would fry chicken. They would pack lots of good food into boxes or baskets. Then picture all of the community coming together for a ”basket social” to raise money for the kids who wanted to get out of that gym and try something new.
Back then we all came together. We acted like one big family. Sometimes today we hardly know our next-door neighbors. But getting back to the way we would raise money, the event would begin. Someone would say, ”What do we have in this basket? It sure looks like Harriet Nayquonabe’s bean soup. And it looks like her fry bread too.” The crowd would laugh. That was our way. We were always a happy community. We all got along and worked together.
Someone would say, ”I’ll give you three dollars.” Then someone else would say, ”I’ll give you five dollars.” And the amount would go up. Back then, $10 was like $100 now. You could fill your gas tank for $4 and a pack of smokes was 60¢.
Every basket would be sold by the end of the night. We had fun and lots of laughs. And in the end, all the kids could go to the mountain and learn to ski. Some of the parents even drove to the mountain and joined in the fun.
The one thing to remember is that no one got hurt. This guy took us camping. He was trusted by everyone. He didn’t do this for recognition or to be treated as special. He took care of us kids. He drove the RBC van, paid for the gas, and fed anyone who was hungry. He never hurt anyone.
Can anyone tell me who he was? I know he was very young. He would protect us and teach us to stand up to anyone who tried to look down at us as ”rez kids.” He told us to be proud of who we were, and to fight to be equal to everyone else. He taught us how to stand up to anyone who tried to keep us down.
I want to tell you something else about this man. He saw a time when this reservation was always having fun. A time when our people would gather together to do fun things like chase a greased pig or climb a greased pole trying to grab the dollar bill hanging at the top. He watched our community come together to play softball. We were a community that never hurt each other.
Think of the young man who was hurt on Ojibwe Drive, his buddy’s son who was gunned down for some stupid reason, and all the other people in our community who are gone or changed forever. It is hard to understand why people are so willing to hurt each other.
The man I’m talking about remembers how kids would respect their parents and the Elders. He is still willing to help anyone who needs help and never hurts anyone. He’s proud of his people. But he feels bad about the people who are so willing to hurt each other.
So if you can figure out who he is, tell someone else, ”Hey, he loves his people even if they don’t understand him.”
– Someone who never hurt any of his fellow Mille Lacs Band tribal members