By Mary Annette Pember
On the night of July 17 and early morning of July 18, six suspicious fires destroyed three traditional ceremonial structures on the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe (LCO) reservation in northern Wisconsin, and two other structures were also severely damaged. The destroyed buildings included a ceremonial lodge, historic home for generations of big drum ceremonies and two private sweat lodges. A big drum dance ring as well as a structure at the pow wow grounds, home of the long-running Honor the Earth pow wow was damaged. An RV that served as the residence for Paul DeMain, a longtime journalist on LCO, was completely destroyed, and the main building on his property, home to News From Indian Country was also partially burned.
Most of the burned structures were used for traditional ceremonies and healing, and DeMain says the message is clear: “Someone is attacking traditionalism in the community.”
Just a few weeks after the arson incidents, efforts to rebuild the Big Drum lodge were already moving forward. Watching the demolition of the remaining bits of the house, Cadotte fought back tears. “Maybe now we can begin healing and moving forward from this thing,” she said, adding that the burning of spiritual items and places is “like what the missionaries did to our people long ago.”
Christopher Grover, an LCO tribal member, was reportedly arrested not long after as a “person of interest” in the cases. Grover, 38, has ties to local evangelicals who embrace elements of a growing ideological movement that has been known to equate traditional Native spirituality with a dangerous form of idolatry, even witchcraft. This idolatry, some believe, is responsible for the social ills in Indian country.
Below: "The historic dance house was a total loss and had to be torn down." (Mary Annette Pember)