Cultural managements

Cultural burning figures prominently in wildfire mitigation

As Canada’s wildfire season continues to start earlier each year, destroying more and more hectares of forested areas, a new study recommends removing barriers so that Indigenous-led cultural burning practices can be used as prominently as the Western method of extinguishing fires is today.

“Despite growing concerns about wildfire risk and the agency’s stated intentions to establish Indigenous peoples as partners in wildfire management, power imbalances still exist,” it read. in a report recently published by the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia.

The Right to Burn: Barriers and Opportunities for Indigenous-Led Fire Management in Canada was published in FACETS, the official journal of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.

“The future and coexistence with fire in Canada must be a shared responsibility and led by Indigenous peoples in their territories,” the report states.

Amy Cardinal Christianson, is Métis from Owl River in the Fort McMurray area of ​​Alberta and is one of the authors of the UBC report.

“One of the main reasons many people, including my family, have stopped burning culture (is) because of the threat of a fine or jail time,” he said. she declared.

This need to shift to Indigenous-led cultural burning, one of whose goals is fire prevention, is underscored by some stark statistics: 60% of Indigenous communities in Canada are in remote, forested areas and indigenous peoples are 30% more numerous. likely to be affected, including displaced, by forest fires.

It’s not ideal, Christianson said, but the report looks at how to integrate cultural burning into the Western system instead of letting cultural burning stand on its own.

“The hard part is that we know that all of Canada is Indigenous territory… (and) there will always be this conflict with colonial agencies policing the land. The idea of ​​this (report) is to make recommendations towards the starting point where nations can start to really bring the fire back to earth, and then start seizing leadership opportunities,” Christianson said.

The report identifies five barriers to the return of cultural burning as an accepted method of preventing wildfires: perceptions, authority and jurisdiction; governance, laws and management; access, accreditation and training; liability and insurance; and capacity and resources.

To overcome these obstacles, the report calls for:

– the creation of a national aboriginal task force on forest fire stewardship;

– the development of a network of Indigenous and non-Indigenous fire practitioners and researchers in each province and territory to identify key policy barriers to the reintroduction of cultural burning;

– giving equal priority to Indigenous knowledge;

– train and accredit firefighters outside of forest fire management agencies; and

– increase financial support for Aboriginal fire management.

These barriers and calls to action underscore the fact that “in Canada, fire management currently falls under the Western system,” Christianson said.

Part of this Western system, she adds, confuses prescribed burns with cultural burning, with Western agencies claiming they take Indigenous knowledge into account. But the two are not the same.

“For Indigenous people, because the goal with cultural burning is so different, you’re not achieving the same thing. Yes, they are setting the landscape on fire, but for many Indigenous nations it is not being done in the right way or for the right reasons,” Christianson said.

Although cultural burning provides a means of controlling and extinguishing fire, it is also a practice used by Indigenous peoples “to maintain desirable ecosystem structures and enhance species diversity and productivity for food. , medicine and ceremonies,” reads the report.

“Indigenous-led fire management … looks holistically at the problem of fire and what is needed from all angles and a lot of it is about pre-fire elements, cultural burning and landscape management. He looks at the water and other things in our nations; just the health of our territories,” Christianson said.

While it will take time to break down the barriers identified in the report, Christianson says that in the 10 years she has been a fire scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, the past five years have seen some movement .

“Since we’ve had more extreme fires in Canada, I think people are starting to look for other solutions so … there’s been a lot more interest in Indigenous knowledge and cultural burning practices,” a- she declared.

“We are seeing change, but I think for Indigenous peoples, it’s never enough. We always want more. We’re looking at five to 10 years, but at the same time in the face of climate change, I think for many countries that’s not fast enough. Our forests in our territories are threatened now.

Christianson points to a report that came from the United Nations in February, which she also co-authored.

Spreading Like Wildfire: The growing threat of extraordinary landscape fires is calling on governments to redirect their spending from firefighting to fire prevention. The “fire-ready formula” describes a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach, with two-thirds of the funding going to planning, prevention, preparedness and recovery, and only one-third to fighting against fires.

The report also states that by the end of the century, the number of forest fires will have increased by 50%.

“Science shows that we need more good fire in the field. So it’s time we started tackling these issues to break down the barriers. In the document, that’s what it’s really about, calls to action, trying to start moving some of those barriers so communities can burn the way they want,” Christianson said.


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