Indigenous

Arson suspected after sacred lodge burnt in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation

A First Nation community near London, Ont. is reeling after its Midewiwin Lodge was found charred and some people in the community say the fire was deliberately set.

No word yet from OPP, but Midewiwin Lodge fire looks deliberately set, community members say

A First Nation community near London, Ont. is reeling after its Midewiwin Lodge was found charred. (Mario Wassaykeesic)

A First Nation community near London, Ont. is reeling after it's Midewiwin Lodge was found charred, and members of the community suspect the fire was deliberately set.

The lodge was located in a remote area of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and was used as a place for ceremonies and teachings.

On Friday, Mario Wassaykeesic and Matt Antone were gathering dirt for a sweat lodge not too far from the Midewiwin lodge, which is the main lodge in the community. The sweat they were holding was taking place elsewhere. 

"We happen to drive by it and I just noticed that the lodge tarp was off," said Wassaykeesic.

He took to Facebook Sunday night to share photos and news of the fire. The community plans to rebuild the lodge as soon as possible. 

"I just wanted my lodge family to know. It also expands to our extended family from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — northern Manitoba area, as well," he said. 

"Without the pictures they wouldn't be able to see what happened." 

Wassaykeesic says he had assumed that someone had just taken the tarp off and decided to go take a look. 

The lodge was located in a remote area of the Chippewas of the Thames reserve and used a place for ceremonies and teachings. (Mario Wassaykeesic)

"As we drove closer we realized the tarp was pulled halfway down and it looked different," said Antone. 

"We drove right up to it and then we realized it was all black."

When a sacred fire is held in a lodge, it's located in the middle of the structure. But Antone says there was evidence that the fire that had charred the Midewiwin Lodge was set close to the east door.

He says when he realized that the lodge had been purposefully lit on fire, he was both sad and disgusted to think that someone from their own community would do this. 

"It's a place of teaching, where we do our ceremonies," Antone said. 

"But the way that we teach them is you have to come to ceremonies, and now that is not there, we can't do it."

He called the Ontario Provincial Police Sunday afternoon and he says they told him somebody would be out to look at what happened, although after waiting for a few hours no officers came. 

It's unclear what the motive behind the fire was at the moment, and CBC News has not received a response from the OPP in London. 

Reflection of healing needed

Mary Deleary says it's a very sad day for the community and says that the cost is far more than financial. 

"Our Midewiwin Lodge is all about it's all about who we are as Anishinaabe people," she said. 

Deleary has been part of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge for 40 years, which is a spiritual society of Anishinaabe people. She is a Mide person, healer, within the society. 

Our Midewiwin Lodge is all about who we are as Anishinaabe people​​​​- Mary Deleary

She says that someone setting the lodge on fire is a reflection of the healing that is needed within the community. 

"It's an act that shows us how much disconnection from who we are as Anishinaabe."

She says that to her, it's not about legal action against those who set the fire, but really about the need to for the community to connect with who they are again. 

"We hurt ourselves because we're hurting so much," she added.