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'The Day the Water Tower Froze' is local author's memoir of Mille Lacs experience

‘The Day the Water Tower Froze’ is an insider’s memoir of Mille Lacs experience

David MacArthur, director of auxiliary operations at Central Lakes College, has had his first book published by North Star Press.

“The Day the Water Tower Froze and Other Stories From My Days With the Mille Lacs Band” is a 26-chapter, 88-page, soft-cover collection of MacArthur’s experiences during 15 years working at the Mille Lacs Reservation.

“Events I witnessed were so noteworthy that they have always been easy to recall,” he writes in the book’s epilogue. “I knew when these events were happening that they were special.”

Every event was memorable.

“How could it not be? I was surrounded by people of my own heritage who continually gave me something all along while I wasn’t even asking for anything.”

MacArthur began his reservation experience in 1994 shortly after casino gaming came to Mille Lacs. MacArthur’s insight as a Native American, a registered member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, coincides if not collides with the stories he shares and the learning of his own previously unknown heritage.

His poignant stories of people and events are delivered in a heartfelt manner and many times with humor.

“I was 34 years old and had not yet become a registered member of the White Earth Band,” he writes in the first chapter, “How I Got Hired at the Reservation.” Having been born between certain dates, he qualified despite lacking the minimum 25 percent blood quantum.

Shortly after getting his membership, Minneapolis native and Catholic-raised MacArthur was hired by the Mille Lacs Band as solid waste supervisor. He qualified because he had experience with recycling and Native American status, and in the job interview his eventual employers could see he was competent.

He proved himself in more ways than one, ascending to positions of greater responsibility such as public works administrator. Before moving on to his current post at the college, MacArthur served as director of small business operations for the Corporate Commission at Mille Lacs.

MacArthur noted he solved numerous problems by taking time to understand the culture, listening to those whose wisdom lies beyond academics and appreciating signs from nature and spirit. He made sure he demonstrated his hard work ethic as “one of the regulars” wherever he was asked to assume a supervisory role.

From implanting efficient and environmentally proper ways to dispose of garbage to reducing problems caused by unethical associations, MacArthur said he befriended those for whom he worked to make life better.

The day the water tower froze, MacArthur managed to win over three employees whose help he needed. He found them playing cribbage. He writes:

“What I did surprised them — I sat down and asked if I could play the next game. Cribbage is a very common game on the reservation. I can’t speak for all reservations, but I learned cribbage from my dad who grew up at White Earth — and was a great cribbage player (who) schooled me in the game for 20 years. I proceeded to beat the pants off the first player, and since their first player who opposed me was their best player, there were no other offers that day. My success at cribbage earned me some respect and allowed me further access into their windowless office with heavy steel doors.”

MacArthur’s frozen tower episode, caused by a pinhole leak, examines a culture he reports had not appreciated the need to plan for possible disaster.

“Here was the disconnect between Western thinking and Native thinking — my dad, although Native, was taught planning. In his case, he tended to overplan. Less than 200 miles away a different group of Indians of the same tribe had not learned this lesson yet. Their lack of planning was not defiance but a connection with the Great Spirit, Mother Earth, and a life that used to be without a watch or clock. They thought differently than Western society.”

MacArthur reports he gives light treatment to otherwise chaotic topics such as sewage in a food commodities building, felonious resort guests, faulty water meters, bureaucrats and ruthlessly unethical and lawless business owners.

He began working at Central Lakes College in April 2007 and has a bachelor’s degree in business from Northland College, Ashland, Wis., while currently halfway to a master’s in management from the College of St. Scholastica.

The book is available in Barnes & Noble stores as well as on

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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