A fire line. Photo courtesy of Canva Creative Commons.

People. Fire. Place.

By: Michelle Medley-Daniel

Topic: Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Type: Tools / Resources

Editor’s Note: This blog features a range of content related to fire resilience. Among our posts are curated resource lists (round ups) focused on various themes. This post is a variation of a “round up” and is intended to offer a collection of Indigenous perspectives on fire featured in popular media articles that highlight cultural burning.

There has been a lot of fire in the West this year. Many of us find ourselves living the crisis wildfire scenarios that fire resilience practitioners are working to avert. Faced with the future we’ve been trying to avoid, people are asking, “How have we ended up here? Are we doomed? If not this, what are the alternatives?”

These questions are, themselves, those of people who have lost their connection with fire. Colonialism has done so much damage and injustice. Among the essential relationships it has disrupted are those among people, place and fire.

More people are recognizing the imperative to find different ways of relating to fire, recognizing that we cannot continue to rely on a suppression-focused approach. As people take inspiration from Indigenous cultural fire knowledge and practice, those of us that are not Indigenous must not appropriate those practices as we seek to improve our own relationships with fire. Instead, we must work to repair the harm that has been, and continues to be done to Indigenous people. That starts by listening.

Today, fire suppression has failed. We talk about fire suppression policies that are 100 years old. That’s experimental. Our practices in terms of using fire to manage this landscape, that’s not experimental. These are tried-and-true practices that we know work. Karuk people have been here using fire since the beginning of time.

Leaf Hillman, READ MORE from Yes Magazine “Colonization, Fire Suppression, and Indigenous Resurgence in the Face of Climate Change”

We’ve been suppressing fire and really, what we’ve been doing is suppressing this critical piece of who we are as humans…Fire isn’t something apart from us. Fire is family.

Elizabeth Azzuz, READ MORE from High Country News “The Fire We Need”

…it saddens me that Indigenous peoples’ millennia-long practice of cultural burning has been ignored in favor of fire suppression.

But it breaks my heart, that regardless of our attempts to retain our cultural heritage and manage our homelands in a manner consistent with our Indigenous customs, the Slater fire is burning down the homes of our tribal members, our tribal staff and our community.

Our land was taken from us long ago and our Indigenous stewardship responsibility was taken from us too. The land is still sacred and it will forever be part of us. We hold the knowledge of fire, forests, water, plants and animals that is needed to revitalize our human connection and responsibility to this land. If enabled, we can overcome our current situation and teach others how to get it done across the western United States.

Bill Tripp, READ MORE from The Guardian, “Our land was taken. But we still hold the knowledge of how to stop mega-fires.”

For thousands of years we used fire on a regular basis to maintain a healthy, productive, and balanced ecosystem. From those beginning times until a little over a 100 years ago, fire was the primary tool we used to keep the land healthy, to make good habitat for animals and people. When we had that balanced ecosystem, all the things we need to thrive as humans were plentiful—the cordage we use, medicine plants, traditional food sources, all of these things benefit from fire. The fire suppression era has restricted our ability to use fire, but the Cultural Fire Management Council has begun to reclaim fire as a land management tool.

Margo Robbins, READ MORE from Public Policy Institute of California, “Using Fire for Good on Tribal Land.”

…it’s not a ‘natural’ state that we’re trying to restore, but actually a cultural legacy in many areas, for particular habitats.

As a non-tribal person, you can learn what you can do as a human to promote pollinators in the habitat they need, and not just look at the environment extractively, as an economic resource or as an ecosystem service that was produced for you.

…reinstating tribal burning practices to recover more open habitat, to expand oak and hardwood forests, to recover and maintain prairies and meadows…reestablishing tribal cultural fire regimes in partnerships with agencies, organizations, and tribal families to increase the diversity of habitats burned across the landscape.

Frank Lake, READ MORE from California Native Plant Society, “Sacred Pollinators: An Interview with Frank K. Lake.”

Landscape rehabilitation and fire resiliency require much more Indigenous leadership and guidance. It’s a short time frame that we’ve taken the [cultural burning] part of the equation out. The main driver that has helped to shape these ecosystems has been removed because of that colonial impact.

Don Hankins, READ MORE from PRI’s The World, “California and Australia look to Indigenous land management for fire help.”

These places are a lot happier when we’re here…The trees are healthy when we’re tending to them, taking really good care of them.

Vikki Preston, READ MORE from Mother Jones, “California’s Wildfire Policy Totally Backfired. Native Communities Know How to Fix It.”

If you have a brand-new house and nobody lives in it and nobody cares for it, in a matter of a couple of years it will begin to fall apart…It needs to have somebody living in it. And this land has to have somebody living in it.

Ron Goode, READ MORE from Dwell, “To Combat Raging Wildfires, California Turns to Native American Knowledge.”

In closing, consider this question posed by Deniss Martinez

For Indigenous communities there is no hand wringing about what to do in the face of climate change; there is action, love, and hope. Native nations know their responsibilities to place. Do you?

– READ MORE from Environmental Health News, “Hands on the land, heart in the community: Returning cultural fires.”


 

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