In 2018 British Columbia recorded its worst fire season in history. In 2020, the Australian bush fire season, colloquially coined as the Black Summer, reigned fire across the continent and our media streams. California wildfires went uncharacteristically late into the season and lives were laid to rest in the carnage and devastation left behind. The impact of climate change is happening all around us, in real-time. Governments are looking for new methods of wildfire management and are looking to the leadership of Indigenous communities.
The 2017 Cariboo-Chilcotin wildfires covered a record breaking 545,000 hectares of land. Fire swept across the plateau, endangering lives and destroying communities. The Tsilhqot’in nation are stewards of this land, and actively managed it with fire for generations before settler intervention. According to Xeni Gwet’in elder Rocky Quilt, his father told him to never leave home without a box of matches. Actively managing the landscape with fire involves burning off grasses, applying the right heat to the right soil and the right time of year. Doing so encourages growth of native plant species, while helping control invasive species. This holistic approach not only encourages a healthier landscape, but also mitigates wildfire danger by burning off dead and dried underbrush.
Gathering Voices Society (GVS) is working with the Tsilhqot’in Government to implement an Indigenous led wildfire management program and to revive the art of fire keeping. Through knowledge sharing and cultural exchange with Australian aboriginal fire keeper Victor Steffensen, the Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in people are relearning fire practices that were lived by for generations. These practices are also a reclamation of Indigenous sovereignty and spirituality. This reconnection to the landscape plays an active role in reconciliation and strengthens land management and cultural practices.