When the new Red Lake Casino was built on Highway 89, Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr., said in the State of the Band address that the tribe would “return the Humanities Center to the people.”
Now, the refurbished Humanities Center or the Red Lake Recreation Center in Red Lake, Minnesota, is nearly complete and without a doubt a first-class, multi-use facility. The building hosts a physical fitness center, a walking area, a college regulation basketball court, a small fitness center just for women, and more. In two years it will also be the home court for a soon to be developed Red Lake Nation College Basketball team to be known as the Migiziwag, or Bald Eagles, the logo of which is already painted on the gorgeous hard wood floor.
“Some people may come through the door and see only this gorgeous basketball court, or the state of the art fitness center, but it’s much more than that,” Jourdain said. “It’s about health, fitness, and above all education.”
“Although this will be the home court for the future Red Lake Nation College team, the Red Lake Migiziwag (Eagles), the facility is for the entire community,” he said. The new Migiziwag logo is painted on the center of the floor already. Basketball is big at Red Lake High School and on the entire reservation.
“We hope to capitalize on this interest to keep kids in school and go on to higher education,” Jourdain said. “This way players can move on from high school to the tribal college and play basketball, and then move on to BSU or other universities and continue to play. We know we have the talent, and we hope then to have many Red Lake collegiate players end up playing pro-ball like Ben Strong.”
Red Laker Ben Strong is now playing with the Iowa Energy development league for the NBA. Strong has kept his ties to the reservation and hosts Big Ben’s Basketball Camp annually.
“The 2015 college team will come in phases,” said Red Lake Nation College President Dan King. “The floor of the basketball court has been expanded a bit so that it meets college regulation. Three three-point lines are drawn on the floor, red line for high school, black line for college, and blue line for pro-ball in case we get some exhibition games or the Globetrotters.”
“This effort has been a collaborative initiative for the tribal college, Red Lake Planning & Economic Development, the tribal council, and the Boys and Girls Club,” noted King. “Basketball is very much a part of a post secondary effort to hook the kids into college basketball.
“Many players stop at high school, we want them to go on to college and if basketball can help, great,” King said. “It’s a mechanism to try and keep youth in school. And then we hope that youth will discover that there is life beyond basketball.”
The college is looking for a coach and has their eye on one of the legendary players from the mid ‘90s record-setting state tournament, the three-point whiz, history-making, Gerald Kingbird. “This will be the first ‘all Indian’ college basketball team when it premieres in 2015,” King said.
Funding for the Recreation Center project came from the same Shakopee Mdewakanton youth initiative grant that built the skate park and the new basketball courts in Red Lake and Ponemah. The Shakopee grant is geared toward education and health for youth.
"The Red Lake Nation College and the new government center are the biggest things to happen on the Rez since Roger (Jourdain) brought in the Red Lake hospital," concluded Jourdain. "It's a bigger deal than casinos because it's an investment in the future. It all goes well beyond that beautiful floor, it goes beyond to the college, to the high school.
Ron Lussier, activities/cultural director at the recreation center talked enthusiastically about the possibilities of the renovated building on a recent tour. Upon entering the building the court floor catches the eye with its color and shine.
“In the early 80s the floor was taken apart and put away,” he said. “Recently it was recovered, sanded, painted and reassembled. Tribal members come in and think it’s a new floor.” Lussier said the floor can be used for other events. There is a tarp that covers the entire floor that can be rolled out in about 15 minutes.
Another eye catcher upon entering the building is the bold color of the bleachers. Building maintenance workers Arnie Wood and Shawn Lussier painted the bleachers down to the main floor. They also reconditioned the long overdue restrooms under and behind the bleachers.
The Red Lake Recreation Center is open and staffed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. The building has also added new security measures including all new doors with new locks.
Mens Basketball League/Community Basketball
The Rec Center now hosts an independent men’s league with 16 teams. According to Lussier they sometimes play four games a night, two nights a month.
“The drug abuse prevention programs fund the whole thing,” he said “Lots of fans come to watch. There are several teams from Red Lake, plus two teams from Cass Lake, Clearbrook, Blackduck and Bemidji all come to play.”
Lussier said that teams are getting more competitive and may start using the blue or NBA line for shooting three pointers. Lussier is looking forward to the arrival of a new score board and shot clocks that are coming soon.
“I expect the Humanities/Rec Center to be a hub of activity. When we have basketball games here, it’s not unusual to have a hundred people come to watch,” he said. “We also have co-ed volleyball. The 7th and 8th grade teams practice here, and high school girls basketball plays here once in a while.”
A level of professionalism has been added to the Fitness Center. Lussier, along with Phillip Jourdain, and Douglas Smith have gotten their credentials as certified trainers and are available for consultation.
“The fitness center has state of the art machines; two bikes, two ellipticals, four treadmills, medicine balls, free weights, universal gym, and a big screen TV,” said Lussier.
“We’ll encourage more walkers to walk the perimeter of the court especially during inclement weather,” he said. “Tribal directors have the option to grant employees one half hour a day for fitness or exercise with pay, some come to the Rec Center at noon for that purpose to walk or play a little basketball.
Ikwewag Fitness Center
As one enters the Rec Center, at the top of the bleachers and to the far left is a women’s fitness center who may want a little more privacy during their workouts. It’s smaller but has a TV, free weights, elliptical, bike and two treadmills.
The area on the north end of the center, which formerly housed the old Red Lake Casino is now in development as the Red Lake Nation Boxing Club. The club is now open from 1 to 9 p.m.
The boxing area is being run by Richard Clark, a former boxer who won the nationals twice in his youth.
“There is a lot of talent on the Rez,” Clark said, “and youth are starting to discover the facility here. On some days up to 20-25 kids come through the door.”
Clark works with people between the ages of 8 and 31, and is looking to put together competitive tournaments. “Red Lake used to have one of the best boxing teams in Minnesota from around 1977 to 1982,” said Clark with pride. “Eventually there will be competition in various weight classes, as we look to compete with the many boxing clubs across Minnesota.”
To help develop amateurs, he said the pro-boxing commission got the ring for $9,000.
“The ring can be dismantled by four people in about two hours so that it can be taken to casinos and other places for exhibitions. A local artist painted the Red Lake logo on the boxing ring matt for a cost of $900, which will include logos at the corners as well,” Clark said.
Off to the side were brackets for speed bags that will be put up soon. On one wall mirrors will be put up for shadow boxing.
While showing a closet full of new gloves and other boxing equipment, Clark showed off the oldest piece saved from the last time Red Lake had a boxing club…a punching pillow.
“I can remember hitting that pillow when I was 14 and now I’m 50,” said Clark with a smile.
On the drawing board for the near future at the center is new LED lighting.
“LED lights will be much better, cost less, and last one-third longer,” Lussier said. “We will be replacing the wood pellet furnace as soon as we can.”
He said the plan is to buy a new propane furnace. This will not only save money by being more efficient but will save money in the long run by using the tribally-owned Red Lake Propane as a vendor.
And Lussier wants to put together more activities for youth. “It’s so important that youth have something to do on the Rez,” he said. “I want to not only see the kinds of recreation that are current, I’d also like to see more social things for youth, perhaps dances or concerts, a way for young people to get together.”