Fire is a part of life for many indigenous groups, but for decades cultural burning was restricted and even criminalized. Now, fire is being brought back to the land by indigenous groups to help prevent big blazes, create resilient ecosystems, and provide resources for indigenous communities. We talk about what a cultural burn looks like, how it shapes the land, and how fire relates to social justice.
Shane Hanlon: 00:00 Hi, Vicky.
Vicky Thompson: 00:01 Hi, Shane.
Shane Hanlon: 00:02 What is, hot start today, what is the most memorable birthday you’ve ever had?
Vicky Thompson: 00:09 Birthday?
Shane Hanlon: 00:10 Birthdays.
Vicky Thompson: 00:11 It’s really funny, first of all that you bring this up because my birthday’s on Sunday.
Shane Hanlon: 00:15 Oh, Happy Early Birthday because I probably won’t remember on the day.
Vicky Thompson: 00:18 Thank you. No, also Sunday. Just completely blocked me out of your life on the weekend. But yes. So anyway, so my birthday, but my most memorable birthday, I think, is many years ago. I forced my husband to throw me a 1970s themed roller skating birthday.
Shane Hanlon: 00:40 Oh, that’s amazing.
Vicky Thompson: 00:41 Yeah. So everybody dressed up and I did my hair. I made my hair as big as I could.
Shane Hanlon: 00:48 Where does one to do something like this?
Vicky Thompson: 00:50 Oh, well we were living in Vermont. And there was a roller skating rink? Ring?
Shane Hanlon: 00:56 Rink.
Vicky Thompson: 00:57 Rink. Sounds so weird.
Shane Hanlon: 00:57 It does.
Vicky Thompson: 01:00 So there was a for real four on the floor roller skating ring and yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 01:05 That’s amazing.
Vicky Thompson: 01:06 And we took it over.
Shane Hanlon: 01:07 Are there pictures of this?
Vicky Thompson: 01:09 Yeah, I could probably find some.
Shane Hanlon: 01:11 You should find some.
Vicky Thompson: 01:12 Really ridiculous silly ones because people were all dolled up. I went through a real phase of themed birthdays for some reason as an adult.
Shane Hanlon: 01:21 That sounds amazing. The great thing about being an adult is you can do whatever you want. So if that’s what you want to do, that’s harmless
Vicky Thompson: 01:27 Force people to dress up as hippies in the 70s, force people to dress up as pirates, whatever.
Shane Hanlon: 01:34 That’s fantastic.
Vicky Thompson: 01:35 Yeah. What about you?
Shane Hanlon: 01:36 So it’s a bit of a cheat for me because it’s not on my actual birthday proper. Though, I don’t know if your party was on your birthday proper.
Vicky Thompson: 01:43 I don’t think that’s a cheat. Well, tell me first. Let me be the judge.
Shane Hanlon: 01:47 So for my 30th birthday, which was, I don’t know, a handful of years ago now, I was in New Orleans for an ATU Meeting. I don’t know if it was Oceans or if it was one of the primary ones, I forget. But I just happened to be there for ATU and one of my sister-in-laws was also in the science policy space. She was there for work. And so my brother and my, now wife, weird to say that came down to visit and we hung out afterwards.
02:14 And one night, the three of us, my sister-in-law unfortunately, ended up getting sick. But my brother and partner and I ended up at Pat O’Briens. Do you know that in New Orleans? The piano bar?
Vicky Thompson: 02:26 Yeah.
Shane Hanlon: 02:26 So we ended up there. Not in the piano bar part, just in a side bar. And there was a really big basketball game going on at the time. Partners are really into sports. And so at one point throughout the evening, she makes friends with everyone at the bar because she’s a very personable person.
Vicky Thompson: 02:42 Of course.
Shane Hanlon: 02:43 And something really big happens in this basketball game where my brother and I are talking and the entire bar erupts and I look up and she is running around this bar just high fiving every single person but bar people. She’s met an hour earlier. And in that moment, we had been dating for about a year at this point, and in that moment my brother looks to me, and I forget the exact words are lost of time, but he essentially says, “I like this one. I think she’s the one for you.”
03:18 And he was obviously very right. So that weekend and that whole experience will always stick out to me. And actually we, at our wedding, which was now a month ago, we didn’t have anybody tell speeches. We did our own speeches. And I told that story as part of our wedding. And so now it’s forever out there in the ether for everyone to enjoy.
Vicky Thompson: 03:39 Oh, that’s so beautiful.
Shane Hanlon: 03:41 Yeah. Birthdays.
Vicky Thompson: 03:41 Birthdays.
Shane Hanlon: 03:48 Science is fascinating. But don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientist or everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.
Vicky Thompson: 03:58 And I’m Vicky Thompson.
Shane Hanlon: 03:59 And this is Third Pod From the Sun. All right, so I’m going to bring in the producer for this episode, Molly Magid. Hi, Molly.
Molly Magid: 04:12 Hi, Shane.
Shane Hanlon: 04:13 Molly, why are we talking about birthdays?
Molly Magid: 04:17 Well, I thought we were going to talk about birthday candles. I have no idea why you took it in the direction that you did.
Shane Hanlon: 04:29 Oh.
Vicky Thompson: 04:29 Wait. So we went through that and it wasn’t even the real prompt?
Shane Hanlon: 04:34 Sometimes I take liberties with the script and we are going to move past that. So Molly, why are we talking about birthday candles?
Molly Magid: 04:45 Right. Well it’s a common tradition that involves fire. And this episode is all about the ritual use of fire for cultural burning. For many Indigenous peoples, the use of fire is a part of life, as well as being a tool for transformation of landscapes.
Vicky Thompson: 05:02 I’ve heard about cultural burning, so it’s been in the news a lot as a way to help prevent some of the large fires we’ve been seeing in the Western United States.
Molly Magid: 05:10 Yeah, that’s right. And to get some more information about cultural burning and Indigenous Fire Stewardship, we talked with Amy Cardinal Christianson and Frank Kanawha Lake. Let’s hear them introduce themselves.
Amy Christianson: 05:27 So I’m Amy Cardinal Christianson. I’m a Métis woman from Treaty 8 Territory, so that’s Northern Alberta, Canada. My family’s the Cardinal and Laboucane families from [inaudible 00:05:41] and then also the Duhamel, or sorry, it’s called Duhamel now, but the Laboucane Settlement. And I live in Treaty 6 right now in a town called Rocky Mountain House Alberta. And I’m a mom of two little girls and I work for Parks Canada as an Indigenous Fire Specialist.
Frank Lake: 05:58 My name is Frank Kanawha Lake. I’m a research ecologist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service. I’m a Karuk Tribal descendant and I live here in Northwest California.
Molly Magid: 06:11 So we talked with Frank and Amy separately, but they touched on many of the same ideas. So we’re weaving their interviews together for this episode. We’ll start with Amy. We asked her what Indigenous Fire Stewardship means?
Amy Christianson: 06:25 Indigenous people across Canada have used fire in good ways on the landscape. And so we had, before colonization, different times that we would burn, different techniques that we use for burning, and a lot of that was to achieve different cultural objectives on the ground. But a side benefit of that was that the fire would also reduce wildfire risk.
06:46 But when colonization of Canada happened we basically weren’t allowed to do those practices. So with colonization came fire exclusion laws and fire suppression where fire was looked at something that was bad to happen on the landscape.
07:01 And I think what we’re seeing right now is lots of Indigenous communities have kept burning in secret, but others have completely quit their burning practices. And I think right now there’s been so many terrible fire events, basically, that have really impacted many Indigenous nations across Canada. And I think lots of Indigenous people are saying that there was ways before, that we would burn and reduce our fire risk, but also achieve these different things we wanted to achieve on the ground, like better grass for animals that we would hunt, better production of berries and medicinal plants.
07:38 And yeah, I think that they’re really looking to revitalize those practices and kind of reclaiming their right to burn in their territories so that their communities aren’t as impacted by wildfire.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]So with my new job, a big part of that is just working with these nations that want to burn and trying to figure out ways that we can get fire back on the ground, that we can support Indigenous led cultural fire practices.
Molly Magid: 08:02 What did these fire mitigation practices look like historically and why are they important?
Amy Christianson: 08:08 Sure. So for different Indigenous nations, when settlers first came to Canada, they would often make remarks like, “Oh this looks like a park.” Or , “Oh, we could drive our wagons kind of right through the forest.” And they assumed, in their mind, that that was natural or a wilderness state of the forest. But really what we’ve come to know now is that it was actually Indigenous managed land or Indigenous stewarded territory. And a lot of that stewardship was through fire.
08:40 So not only Indigenous people applying fire to the ground, but also in having wildfires that happened. So lightning caused fires that would then also manipulate the landscape. And I think, so I worked with Peavine Métis Settlement for my PhD, and they’re located in Northern Alberta. And when I first went up there we were just trying to look at how to make communities more resilient to fire.
09:07 And that was there when I started, people would never talk to me about cultural burning, but then the second they found out they were related to me, that was when all the stories came out because you can be fined and other things in Canada for burning without a permit or where you’re not supposed to. So people are very hush hush about it still to this day.
09:27 As I started getting to know people, the most common thread was just that we need to clean the forest like we used to. And so that means conducting these low intensity fires that usually happen in the understory. So under the trees or in meadows or other things that basically clean up the vegetation. So in wildfire research we call those fuels, the things that a wildfire can consume and it just makes sense. The less fuel that you have on a landscape to burn, the less big your fire will be.
09:58 If you think of a campfire, if you only burn a few pieces of wood, it’s manageable. But if you try and burn a whole spruce tree, you might get into a bit of trouble. So that’s basically what they were doing was just trying to use fire to, well to reduce fuel load. But as I said before, that was really a secondary thing. Fire has many other benefits for Indigenous people and probably the most common in Northern Canada is using fire to extend the growing season.
10:28 There we have frost in the ground a long time. The summer growing season is very short. So in this spring we’ve got this dead matted grass that the snow melts out of, but it’s really gross and pretty thick matted. So they would go in and burn that and it would basically turn that black and then that black would absorb the heat from the sun as well and really start heating the soil underneath, which would then germinate the plants quicker so that the grass would come up earlier and it would really extend the growing season.
11:03 So you get rid of all that dry dead grass and you have great green grass that comes. And a benefit of that is that then deer come to that area because it’s easy eating and moose and other things that our nations rely on. So it makes hunting a lot easier too.
Molly Magid: 11:18 That really sounds like fire’s being used as a tool for all these beneficial things?
Amy Christianson: 11:32 Fire helps to promote biodiversity because what we’re trying to do with fire is put a mosaic on the landscape. So instead of having one consistent type of vegetation or one consistent forest, we want to see different things in our forest so that when we’re going out and harvesting and gathering and other things, we don’t have to go as far if things are right around you. And some of my colleagues refer to it almost as forest agriculture, a forest orchard, that you want around you and you can’t get that unless you’re stewarding the land.
Molly Magid: 12:06 What were some other beliefs about fire or what are some other beliefs about fire?
Amy Christianson: 12:11 Sure. So I think for many Cree people and other Indigenous people, so my family is, the background is Creean and French and Ojibwe. And so I think for those nations, fire is viewed with a spirit. So that fire was sent to us by Creator as a helper on the land and that it can be used in a good way. And so fire is used in a lot of our ceremonies.
12:39 It’s actually probably rare to have many Indigenous ceremonies without fire there. Sometimes you might hear it referred to as Sacred Fires or other things when you have a sweat lodge or something else like that, you use fire to heat the rocks. It’s just a really important part of life. And then besides the cooking aspect of it and keeping people warm in Northern Canada.
13:05 So fire’s always been a really important part of our lives, but I think some of those fires that we use for ceremony and other things are much smaller in scale, but we also used fire on the landscape for much larger style of landscape stewardship.
Molly Magid: 13:22 Could you talk about what it’s like to be at one of these burns? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
Amy Christianson: 13:31 Yeah, so I’d say the burns that I’ve been part of or been able to witness are almost community events. So when you go on a bad fire where there’s, it’s out of control, it’s almost, it’s not frantic, but it’s almost here’s aircraft everywhere, there’s people on their radios. It’s high intensity environment. And I think that being on a cultural fire is the exact opposite of that.
13:58 There’s kids there, there’s elders there, there’s people just kind of talking and laughing and they all light the fire. Some people will be on the fire, others will just be watching. Because that it’s generally a low intensity fire, it’s more of just a community gathering where people go out and learn, watch how to burn, learn from the elders, tell stories. So yeah, it’s usually quite a nice community building experience.
14:25 I’ve heard an elder, Roland Duhkhet, from Northern Saskatchewan from Peter Ballantyne Nation. He describes it as, “Having fires that we can walk beside.” So you know, get out there and you light the fires, lots of times the kids are involved, the kids will be helping to spread the fire, and really teaching them instead of this fear of fire that we’ve developed in lots of people, more of a respect for fire and that it can be dangerous if used in the wrong way, but the importance of using it right and respecting fire.
14:58 So I think, yeah, when you’re on a cultural burn, that’s kind of what it’s like. It’s basically instead of looking at a bunch of different scientific instruments and other things like, “Oh should we burn today? Should we not?” It’s the elders will just go out and be able to tell from different cues that they see in the landscape if it’s a safe and a good time to burn.
Vicky Thompson: 15:27 That sounds like a really lovely community event. And also contrary to the idea that fire is scary. So a fire you can walk beside doesn’t seem dangerous at all?
Molly Magid: 15:35 Right. Well, Amy said that a fear of fire was brought by Europeans during colonization. They saw fire as something that could destroy forests and reduce the amount of timber they could sell, so they restricted its use.
Shane Hanlon: 15:48 Yeah. So I was wondering when we get to the one of, I guess many elephants in the room, but European colonization. So how exactly did colonization change how these Indigenous groups could use fire?
Molly Magid: 16:04 Well, European colonization of North America often led to the prevention, and even criminalization, of cultural burning practices. Let’s hear more about that from Frank.
Frank Lake: 16:15 Well, here in particular in California with the colonization by initially Spanish and then Americans, there was first, unfortunately, the atrocities of genocide and forced removal through the colonizers. And then one of the first laws that the Spanish instituted then was at the missions was to prevent Indian burning.
16:34 Another one of the first laws in California was to prevent Native burning. And that in itself began to modify the fire regime because you were removing a huge element of fire on a landscape. And so there was the genocide, forced removal, colonization, the relocation of Native people. And we see through different lines of scientific evidence, particularly to fire history studies and now more so with other things like ethnographic information, repeat photography that that begin to change not only the composition and the structure but at large landscape scale.
17:03 So there’s other studies across the Klamath Mountains and Sierra Nevadas that talk about it being fuel limited and with the exclusion of tribal management and then the fire exclusion policies, not only were those early on, some of the policies of both the Spanish and American governments, but then we had in 1911 the Weeks Act that then set in a full suppression policy that then were, you have those tribal territories that were public lands, there was a federal and state mandate to then start suppressing fires.
17:32 And so even where there might have been forms of resistance through cultural burning and what was considered arson, there became a lot more militarized aspects of suppressing and excluding fire, but also imprisoning and targeting those “arsonists” as tribal people were often considered to have further fire removed from the landscape.
Molly Magid: 17:57 Wow. I didn’t realize it goes back basically to the beginning, you were saying, that first law was about preventing fires. That’s really interesting.
Frank Lake: 18:08 It was very much targeted to remove Native people from the resource on the landscape and to decouple them from one of their most efficient tools, which was fire.
Molly Magid: 18:19 That’s really interesting.
Frank Lake: 18:20 And that’s played out in various lines of evidence. So unfortunately it’s complex and it’s multifaceted but you start to think about one, introduce diseases and outright genocide reducing a large part of the population anywhere from 70 to 90% of Native people. There’s your reservoir of knowledge.
18:35 Then you have outright targeting Native people as both ceremonially and subsistence wise for using fire. So prohibiting and outlawing many of the ceremonies that tied to fire use. So there was another aspect of that. So you have, again, another loss of critical knowledge capacity within the community. And then we have things going through that colonial period through the Civil War. There was outright militia and others who went to go target in Indians in the interest of the timber barrens and minors and other colonial settler interest. That was another way in which knowledge was reduced. And then the ability to carry on that knowledge.
19:10 And then from there you have relocation and federal and other policies that looked at relocating and educating Indians that further disconnected them from their place, utilizing fire, and then for you being a fire dependent culture or Native people as fire dependent cultures then didn’t have that ability to have that in the context of hunting, gathering, resource tending, getting the appropriate traditional foods and basket materials and wildlife that you used for food and regalia and then also not having the ceremonial aspects of it.
19:44 And so there was a lot of policies and actions by the federal and state governments to limit Native people’s use of fire, but also their relationship with fire and with that, so went the knowledge in the intergenerational teaching.
19:58 And so today a lot of that knowledge is both being recovered by tribes, but also for those tribal communities that held onto it, are trying to be able to now come to a safe space where they can share their knowledge and relate that as part of the cultural fire regime and as part of the restoration strategies and for eco cultural revitalization.
Shane Hanlon: 20:22 Yeah, unfortunately, that sounds like the kind of typical colonization playbook, disenfranchising Indigenous groups, removing them from their land, preventing them from engaging in cultural practices.
Vicky Thompson: 20:34 And both Amy and Frank work with government agencies in Canada and the US. So what I’m wondering is how do these agencies begin work with Indigenous groups given the fraught history and violence perpetuated by the government?
Molly Magid: 20:49 That’s a good point. It involves a lot of reckoning with, and acknowledging that history, before moving forwards with an equitable partnership with Indigenous groups.
Frank Lake: 21:01 We have to face some hard truths about the effects of colonization and in the settler-Indigenous dynamics that happen on our landscapes. As far as fire prone ecosystems, I think one of the most important aspects of what I’ve found from my work is, again, the historical acknowledgement of what’s happened to tribes, that have happened as part of that reconciliation process, that will then lead to the repatriation of that cultural knowledge and practice.
21:35 We’re beginning now with the increased effects of climate change, our climate crisis, that’s coupled with drought and fires, increased densification of trees and fuel loads. We’re seeing more extreme fire events. And I think that all has precipitated in this awareness of, “Well what can we do to learn to live with fire?” And beginning to understand that Indigenous people, as fire dependent cultures within each of their fire pro ecosystems, had a way in which they understood that through millennia and generations.
22:06 And so how does this America society now come to terms with their own colonial settler history, working with Indigenous people, learning to live with fire, and finding common solutions so that way we can all be co beneficiaries of that shared knowledge and experience and work together?
Molly Magid: 22:23 When you talk about Indigenous Fire Stewardship, in these projects, are Indigenous groups able to take the lead and sort of reclaim their practices and putting fire back onto the land? How is that that process?
Frank Lake: 22:40 Well, I think part of the structure and the approach is to look at, again, tribes as co-leads in these restoration partnerships and then on behalf of their constituents or their tribal membership, is to then be able to have those restoration efforts be beneficial to the tribal community.
23:00 And so one of my model examples that I have in my frameworks is we incorporate Indigenous knowledge and into our scientific methods and our studies. So we’re studying basket material, what do we study and why? If we’re studying traditional foods, what’s the effects of fuels and fire treatments on that and in a resource quality for the condition of those foods for tribal food security and wellness?
23:20 And then from that level we think about prioritizing where we treat and why. So often there’s an emphasis on wildland urban interface. Many of those villages historically are now tribal, our towns, are a part of the tribal and public community. Looking at what used to be along the tribal ridge trail systems are now our roads and where we manage wildfire or can use fire from and then also have their community members or descendants, like myself and my family, be the beneficiaries of that.
23:46 So I see the partnerships doing the heavy lifting and those initial kind of corrective actions that then get the forest or that particular habitat into a condition where tribal stewardship can come in and begin to take place again.
Vicky Thompson: 24:04 So the key is to form these partnerships and make sure tribal stewardship is maintained?
Molly Magid: 24:10 Right. And that’s the reason that both Frank and Amy say they love doing their jobs. As Indigenous people they are able to advocate for their communities to do this burning.
Shane Hanlon: 24:20 Okay. So how are the landscapes changing when communities are allowed to do these cultural burns?
Molly Magid: 24:27 It’s an interesting question. Amy talked about how scientific evidence is a Western idea. And so to even evaluate this cultural burns we might have to rethink what counts as evidence.
Amy Christianson: 24:42 So it’s quite interesting because lots of times with agencies and things they’ll want to see proof that cultural burning works. And lots of times they’ll want that proof in the terms of Western scientific studies.
24:55 So they want to see tree ring studies that prove that we were burning historically and then they’ll want to see fire effects monitoring or other things that show that we’re achieving the effects that we want. But I think for many Indigenous people, those stories have always been with our elders.
25:13 And so for me that’s sometimes frustrating because there’s just a lack of respect for the knowledge that our elders carry just because it’s not published in a scientific journal. So I think for most people, for Indigenous burners, a big thing is after they burn, does it improve or enhance their cultural practice? So when they go and burn, does it bring deer to an area? Does it remove some of the invasive species that they don’t want to see? Are there better medicinal plants growing? What’s the berry quality? Are the berries bigger and plumper?
25:46 But lots of that is just based on Indigenous knowledge, so observational assumptions that were seen of the land and not published. And I think that that’s where there’s a bit of a disconnect right now because agencies want to see all that published. So many nations, some of them are publishing or partnering with universities and other things to get “proof” that we’re achieving what we want to achieve in reducing fire risk.
26:16 But there’s many other nations, I know, that are refusing that because they’re just saying, “The knowledge is shown in our communities and our elders and that that’s good enough for us. We don’t need to spend all this money on all this Western scientific studies.”
26:31 So yeah, it’s a bit interesting and part of the dilemma, I think, that many Indigenous nations go through in trying to get their knowledge systems recognized
Molly Magid: 26:45 And Frank says that measuring success through this sort of scientific evidence is based on the idea that ecosystems provide services for us, not on the tribal philosophy that humans should work to make those ecosystems more resilient.
Frank Lake: 27:01 So we think about ecosystem services and what we can derive from them. Much of the tribal philosophy, particularly around Indigenous Fire Stewardship is human services for ecosystems and how we can promote that and increase that resistance of resilience that then also increase quantity and quality of water, which is one of our main values.
Molly Magid: 27:22 Human services for the ecosystem. That is such a important perspective and I agree that I think the dominant western perspective, perhaps, or just the dominant perspective in science that gets heard is the one about ecosystem services for humans. But we need to start thinking the other way.
Frank Lake: 27:41 Well, and an important aspect of that, when we talk about climate adaptation and reducing our vulnerability, is to look at the human agency of being that one that can promote and enact that adaptive capacity.
27:54 Another aspect of my work on the climate change and forestry and fire part is the adaptation plans that talk about, “Foresters or managers will do this.” For tribal people. It’s like, “Well who is that?” If you don’t have adequate funding, if you don’t have the capacity for those foresters and managers, then how’s that working going to get done?
28:14 For tribal people, it’s about access to their ancestral territory and those resources. It’s about active engagement, it’s about opportunity to lead to stewardship and to be, again, the ones who are directly increasing the resistance and resilience of the resources as species, those habitats that are culturally valued and favored across different ecosystems and across those communities as our adaptive capacity.
28:38 And then not only informing that through the rekindling of that knowledge, but setting up our future generation for success to have that adaptive capacity. So they’re just not overwhelmed by the climate crisis or the threats of wildfire.
Shane Hanlon: 28:59 It seems that this is really about what type of knowledge we say is scientific and valid to be used as evidence. And there’s definitely a larger conversation to have about recognizing and valuing Indigenous knowledge.
Vicky Thompson: 29:14 It also sounds like we need to make sure Indigenous people are the ones able to set the fires, they should be the main beneficiaries also.
Molly Magid: 29:22 Yeah, Amy talked about how having Indigenous people at the center of these practices is really important to make sure that cultural burning is sustainable.
Amy Christianson: 29:32 I think right now what we really need to see is just almost an understanding of what Indigenous burning is. I think many people, especially in wildfire agencies, just don’t understand what it is and what we’re trying to achieve and what we want to do.
29:48 Even the general public, I think, sometimes when they hear about cultural burning, they just equate that with prescribed fire and imagine us trying to burn up the side of a mountain and not wearing personal protective equipment and all these different things. So that’s one real big thing that I think lots of us are working on is just getting that messaging out there. Well what is good fire? How can it be used?
30:09 And then the other thing is really having Indigenous leadership in this area. So recognizing the knowledge of Indigenous people and trying to avoid obviously knowledge appropriation of cultural burning practices.
30:24 I guess. Yeah, technically anybody could come and learn from a fire keeper how to burn an area, but if you’re not sustaining culture with that, then it’s not really a cultural burning practice. And it also, to me, becomes a major social justice issue. Indigenous people basically had fire ripped out of their hands. And then if we’re going to start saying, “Yeah, we need more fire on the landscape,” in a social justice sense, shouldn’t it be Indigenous people then that we return that flame to be able to do that?
30:56 And so I see, sometimes that’s hard for me, because I see a lot of excitement from other folks like, “Oh yeah, I want to burn, I want to learn this, I want to do these things.” But then I continuously see Indigenous people sidelined and unable to do it. For me, I think that’s just where it’s really important as well to share that this is also about social justice and reconciliation as much as it is about fire.
Molly Magid: 31:20 Is there a concern that if people go out and try and do this work without having that knowledge base, without being Indigenous, without knowing what they’re doing then, and calling it cultural burning, then that will sort of dilute the idea of what actual cultural burning is?
31:39 And potentially maybe even, if something goes out of control, because they don’t understand what they’re doing, then it might make it a little bit harder to do cultural burning in the future?
Amy Christianson: 31:51 Yeah, I think for Indigenous people, my own nation too, we’re just so used to everything being colonized or taken from us, appropriated. And so I think that with fire, I think it’s one thing that we feel more defensive over because it’s something that it in ways it has with prescribed burning and other things that you see, that’s a take on cultural burning.
32:16 But I think that that’s for many people, it’s a red flag when agencies come and say, “We want you to come and teach us about cultural burning.” Because I think it’s just another thing that we could just see being removed from us and becoming completely out of our control. Whereas really fire is a tool that can lead to Indigenous sovereignty, that can lead to land back, and to all these other movements that we’re trying to achieve.
32:39 So for example, if you’re burning your territory and it’s non government recognized, but the government says “You can burn there,” then that’s basically almost an admission that that’s your territory. So then what does that lead into in the future?
32:54 And so I think that that’s why many governments are also super cautious about burning and who can burn where, because it’s a much bigger thing than just starting a fire somewhere. It’s about sovereignty.
Molly Magid: 33:07 That’s really interesting. And it sounds like that has to do with some of that historical legislation. Who’s allowed to burn where? What does that mean? What does territory mean? Does it mean you’re burning on there, you’re allowed to be there, things like that.
Amy Christianson: 33:22 Yeah. So right now in Canada, First Nations, can burn on their reserves. They technically have control of that so they can do what they want. There still is agencies often try to oversee that and make sure that they’re doing it in a proper way, but Indigenous nations aren’t, reserves are very small compared to the actual Indigenous territories of many of the nations.
33:46 And so I think that’s one thing that many want to see because we’re never going to be able to achieve this kind of biodiversity on the landscape by doing small patch burns on small reserves. This is much more about that we need landscape level cultural fire. And so the only way we’re going to get that is through recognition of territory.
Shane Hanlon: 34:19 I honestly didn’t expect a conversation that, frankly started with talking about birthdays and birthday candles, acknowledging your prom Molly, to end up at social justice. But, honestly, I’m really happy that it did.
Vicky Thompson: 34:33 Me too. And I learned so much about fire as a tool to shape landscapes and to bring communities together.
Molly Magid: 34:40 And a little bit of a fun fact, Amy and Frank actually know each other through their work and they both said that getting to work with other Indigenous people who are burning and building community, it’s the best part of their jobs.
Shane Hanlon: 34:52 Yeah, honestly, one of the things I like most about my job is getting to work with folks like Vicky. Vicky, it’s great working with you and Molly and our podcast team and all the different scientists that we interview.
Vicky Thompson: 35:05 Aw, we like you too, Shane
Shane Hanlon: 35:07 Gross. All right. So we need to end this before it gets too sappy. So with that, that’s all from Third Pod from the Sun.
Vicky Thompson: 35:16 Thanks so much to Molly for bringing us this story and to Amy and Frank for sharing their work with us.
Shane Hanlon: 35:21 This episode was produced by Molly with audio engineering from Collin Warren, art by Jay Steiner.
Vicky Thompson: 35:27 We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. Please rate and review us, and you can find new episodes on your favorite podcasting app or at thirdpodfromthesun.com.
Shane Hanlon: 35:36 Thanks all. And we’ll see you next week. With this prompt did you have any other birthdays that came to mind?
Vicky Thompson: 35:48 The one that came to mind is not actually my birthday, it’s the pirate themed birthday party that I made for my husband when we lived in Vermont also.
Shane Hanlon: 35:56 Did he want to pirate themed birthday?
Vicky Thompson: 35:57 He mentioned in passing months prior to his birthday, we were in a grocery store and we were at the cake counter and there was a big kids’ cake that had a hollowed out chunk and had a blue Jell-O, it was a pirate cake, and it was a hollowed out chunk and it had a blue Jell-O sea. And Brian was like, “Oh, that’s a cool cake.” So don’t ever say things like that to me.