LAC DU FLAMBEAU, Wisc. — On Tuesday, Newsweek magazine published a story about an incident that occurred on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin, where a man was escorted out of the LDF Country Market by tribal police for not wearing a mask.

Man pulling up shirt as face mask

According to an article in Newsweek, an LDF Country Market employee reportedly said, “There’s an irate white man on the reservation trying to boss us around right here folks.” 

However, it was LDF tribal citizen Greg Biskakone Johnson, and not a grocery store employee, who recorded the incident, which occurred more than a week ago.

In the video recorded by Biskakone Johnson, a man refused to wear or purchase a mask while shopping in the store. Instead, he mocked employees by holding his shirt over his mouth. After the man refused to leave the store for not wearing a mask, he demanded to know all the names of the Country Market employees. He was a non-tribal member and the video shows him expressing outrage over the mask requirement. 

“You’re on a sovereign nation, if you don’t like it, get out,” Biskakone Johnson could be heard saying in the video, which prompted others to remove the non-tribal member from the store. 

George Carufel, the Country Market manager and LDF tribal member, said this isn’t the first time a customer has refused to wear a mask while shopping at the newly opened grocery store.

The Country Market is owned and operated by the Lac du Flambeau Business Development Corporation and serves as the reservation’s only grocery store. It opened its doors on June 3, 2020 — a year after the project broke ground, according to Melissa Doud, interim chief operating officer of the LDF BDC and LDF Tribal Council Member. 

"We have signage for our consumers and staff to practice social distancing and we require masks in the store," Carufel noted.

The Lac Du Flambeau Tribal Council passed a resolution earlier this year allowing only permanent residents on tribal land during the pandemic, but since the resolution was passed its enforcement has eased due to attempts to reopen the local economy.

“At the BDC and LDF Country Market we mirror and enforce policy that is directed from the Tribal Council and Incidental Command Team,” said Melissa Doud, interim chief operating officer and LDF Tribal Council Member. “We do have the right to enforce people to wear masks when visiting our community.”

The Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation is home to the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and was established by the Treaty of 1854. According to the tribe, it has 3,415 enrolled tribal members. Due to the reservation having both public and tribal land, as well as the Lake of the Torches Casino being open for business, preventing non-tribal members from shopping or visiting the reservation can be difficult.

“We're within our rights to call tribal police to escort out people being rowdy or refusing to follow our guidelines,” Carufel said.

At the time of this writing, the tribe’s official count of positive COVID-19 cases stands at one and many believe it is due to the measures taken by the tribe to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Wisconsin's health department announced a new daily coronavirus case record set on Monday, as the state added 703 new positive infections.

“We want to express that the LDF Country Market is fully open for business,” Doud said. “We just ask that when you visit us to respect our sovereignty and if we ask you to wear a mask while you shop in our community, wear a mask.” 

Although the video showed the man as angry and upset, LDF police told Native News Online that he was pleasant and understood the community’s efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and he wanted no trouble. 

Support Independent Indigenous Journalism

Native News Online is an independent, Indigenous-led newsroom with a crucial mission:  We want to change the narrative about Indian Country. We do this by producing intelligent, fact-based journalism that tells the full story from all corners of Indian Country.  We pride ourselves on covering the tribes you may have never heard of before and by respecting and listening to the communities we serve through our reporting. As newsrooms across the country continue to shrink, coverage of Indian Country is more important than ever, and we are committed to filling this ever-present hole in journalism.

Because we believe everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities, the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. But we hope it inspires you to make a gift to Native News Online so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount, big or small, gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. 
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson