Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spirit houses

Spirit houses at the Pinery Indian Cemetery, L'Anse, Michigan. Though unmarked with names and dates, they serve the same purpose as stone monuments.

Yesterday, on another of my authorial research forays, the Lady Friend, our chum Tina, and I drove from the Writer's Lair 48 miles east to L'Anse, Michigan, at the foot of Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. There we paid a visit to the ancient Pinery Indian Cemetery, an Ojibwa site that has been a tribal burial ground for centuries.

It is still in use by the Zeba Indian Mission United Methodist Church, and since 1840 people buried there have been memorialized by conventional stone monuments as well as traditional spirit houses, unmarked knee-high wooden structures that give departed souls shelter from the elements.

Last May 20 a forest fire, fanned by gusts to 60 m.p.h., devastated the woods around the cemetery and destroyed 45 spirit houses, but spared the majority.

Already the mission is planning to replace the burned spirit houses, and on the day of our visit the graves they protected were marked by little red flags.

Naturally the sight suggests a chapter in the novel-in-progress in which Steve Martinez, born Lakota, chases a bad guy through the woods and stumbles upon an old graveyard of his tribe's ancestral enemies, the Ojibwa. This has a lot of possibilities.

An eloquent historical marker tells the story of the cemetery.

Many of the spirit houses that survived the fire are very old.

Some are returning to the earth, the names of their inhabitants presumably lost to history.

Red flags mark the sites of the spirit houses destroyed in the May 20, 2009, fire. They will soon be restored.


  1. Wow I had no idea places like is existed. I would love to visit this place and others that you have been to.

  2. We visited the same site several yaers ago. My son said it has a special feeling around the entire place. thanks for sharing.

  3. I was told by a medicine man on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, while at my friends Ojibwa burial ceremony about three weeks ago, that when the spirit houses fall in they are not to be restored, or kept up from the time they are placed over the burial site. I also learned that day that I buried my friend, there was a recent baby that was still born that was just buried a month prior to my friend and I asked why the baby didn't get a spirit house and the medicine man told me that, because the baby never took a breath of air, so it didn't get a spirit house, because it died in the womb.

  4. I just visited this beautiful cemetery last week! It is the most sacred cemetery I have come across in my travels. The spirit houses are truly a marvel to behold, especially so many. I felt like the ancestors were walking with me when I was there. Thank you for sharing, Amy

  5. This is a holy place where my Father, and nephew are buried near the great circle of the ancient ones. If you visit here place down tobacco at each grave that you visit out of respect.
    Chi Megwetch!

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