By the time firefighters arrived at the Chief Joseph Nez Perce Longhouse early Wednesday morning it was too late: flames were destroying the building.
An electrical fire broke out at 12:30 a.m. in the floor of the building on the Colville Reservation. Firefighters attempted to extinguish the fire, but the longhouse burned to the ground. An investigator will be on the scene today to rule out any other causes.
The Colville Confederated Tribes lost more than a building, they lost a spiritual and cultural center, a community gathering point, a place that “encapsulated that feeling of home,” said John Sirois, chairman of the Colville Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
“Some of the messages that I have received … just in tears and shock,” Sirois said. “It really felt like this is a part of the community.”
Tribal firefighters arrived on the scene minutes after the blaze began, Sirois said, but it appeared that the fire started in the floor of the building, leaving them unable to enter. Firefighters instead were forced to battle the fire from outside, leaving them unable to stop the building’s destruction.
“It was quite a shock to see just embers,” he said.
The building was primarily a religious center on the reservation, Sirois said. It was also used for meetings and events.
Items used in religious and cultural celebrations were housed there, including beaded regalia. All of it was lost.
No one was hurt, but several members of the tribe tried to enter the building to save the items, Sirois said.
The building was insured, and representatives of the Colville Tribes’ insurance company will assess the damage. In the meantime, tribal historians will work to identify what items were lost.
“We are taught in a lot of native cultures that material things are transient, and they’re not to be valued higher than your relationships with each other,” Sirois said. “This may be one of those instances where we have to rely on that teaching.”