Applying Fire Knowledge

The role of humans is not to control nature, but to maintain a balance between these opposing forces. This balance is based on recognition of reciprocal relationships between human and nonhuman members of the ecological community…. Human application of fire is part of that interdependence.[1]

The Muskrats to Moose Project Team takes the position that Indigenous-led fire practices are a form of cultural expression for Indigenous Peoples and their communities.

The use of Indigenous-led fire practices is also an exercise of Indigenous Peoples and their communities’ Aboriginal title and inherent rights in their territories and areas of interest.

In consideration of this position, one goal of the Muskrats to Moose: Braiding Cultural Burning and Western Fire Management Project is to describe effective ways to implement notable clauses and sections of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published 94 Calls to Action addressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing the process of Canadian reconciliation. People living and working in Canada play individual and collective roles to advance the Calls to Action. Truth and reconciliation also mean that Indigenous practices are upheld for Indigenous Peoples living and working on the land.

UNDRIP was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2007. In May 2016, the Government of Canada announced that Canada is a full supporter, without qualification, of UNDRIP. This declaration establishes a comprehensive international framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, security and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world. UNDRIP elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of Indigenous Peoples.

 

So, let’s consider how specific TRC Calls to Action and UNDRIP articles support Indigenous-led fire practices and the application of fire knowledge on the land.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action

TRC Call to Action #10

We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal [P]eoples.[2] The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles:

iii. Developing culturally appropriate curricula.

TRC Call to Action #14

We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:

i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.

ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.

iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.

iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal People and communities.

v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

TRC Call to Action #19

We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal Peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long-term trends.

Such efforts would focus on indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services.

TRC Call to Action #43

We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

TRC Call to Action #45

We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal Peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Crown.

The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments:

i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

ii. Adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

iii. Renew or establish Treaty relationships based on principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect, and shared responsibility for maintaining those relationships into the future.

iv. Reconcile Aboriginal and Crown constitutional and legal orders to ensure that Aboriginal Peoples are full partners in Confederation, including the recognition and integration of Indigenous laws and legal traditions in negotiation and implementation processes involving Treaties, land claims, and other constructive agreements.

TRC Call to Action #47

We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.

The TRC Calls to Action encourage all citizens, organizations and orders of government to take an active role in being reflective in their work and in their understanding of their relationships with Indigenous Peoples, for example, advocating for the inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing and encouraging more collaboration with Indigenous communities when appropriate.[3]

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) 

Article 3

Indigenous [P]eoples[4] have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 18

Indigenous Peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own [I]ndigenous decision-making institutions.

Article 19

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

Article 26

1. Indigenous Peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous Peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 27

States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with Indigenous Peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to Indigenous Peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of Indigenous Peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous Peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.

Article 28

1. Indigenous Peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.
 

Article 29

1. Indigenous Peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for Indigenous Peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination. 

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous Peoples without their free, prior and informed consent. 

3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of Indigenous Peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.
 

Article 32

1. Indigenous Peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources. 

2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
 
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
 

UNDRIP provides an international lens to the journey of Indigenous-led fire practices by outlining the minimum standards for the survival, dignity, security and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world while elaborating on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of Indigenous Peoples across the world.[5]

Of particular note, Article 19 (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) is “a specific right that pertains to [I]ndigenous [P]eoples and is recognized in the UNDRIP. It allows them to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. Once they have given their consent, they can withdraw it at any stage. Furthermore, FPIC enables them to negotiate the conditions under which the project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated. This is also embedded within the universal right to self-determination.”[6]

Following are other notable strategies and reports that support Indigenous-led fire practices and the application of Indigenous-led fire knowledge on the land.

2015–2030 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

This international framework recognizes the important roles of Indigenous Peoples in addressing disaster risk using Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and expertise on how to adapt and reduce risks from climate change and disasters.

A notable excerpt from the Sendai Framework is the important contribution to the development and implementation of plans and mechanisms, including those for early warning that Indigenous Peoples provide through their experience and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge.[7]

Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency Annual Reports

The Agency’s mandate provides public safety services with and alongside Indigenous Peoples. For example, the Agency’s mandate expanded to include wildfire management and emergency management. 

In the 2019/2020 Annual Report, the Agency referenced a strategic objective to engage with Indigenous community service providers and leaders to build community safety. 

This engagement involves supporting Indigenous leaders and their efforts to enhance public safety in their jurisdictions.
 

Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs’ June 2018 Report From the Ashes: Reimagining Fire Safety and Emergency Management in Indigenous Communities

From the Ashes: Reimagining Fire Safety and Emergency Management in Indigenous Communities

This report describes the context of emergency management in First Nations communities which includes roles and responsibilities in First Nations communities regarding preparedness, response, recovery, prevention, funding, fire protection standards and data collection. Recommendations are also summarized in this report.

Notable excerpts include this sentence: “collaborative agreements are necessary and important, as long as the First Nations are meaningfully engaged at the time they are negotiated” (p.13). Another notable excerpt follows: “capacity building and training are essential components of preparedness. Capacity building involves training community members so that they know how to respond during an emergency as well as training and accrediting Indigenous emergency management officials. Ensuring that qualified officials are given the appropriate training in First Nation communities would build capacity so that First Nations are equipped to respond during an emergency” (p.16).

[1]Kimmerer, R. W., & Lake, F. K. (2001). The role of Indigenous burning in land management. Journal of Forestry, 99(11), p. 38.

[2]In accordance with our own writing style, the Muskrats to Moose Project Team changed the lower case “people(s)” in the TRC Calls to Action to upper case “People(s).”

[3]https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf

[4]The Muskrats to Moose Project Team changed both “indigenous” and “peoples” from the original lower case to our own writing style which capitalizes these words: Indigenous Peoples.

[5]http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

[6]http://www.fao.org/indigenous-peoples/our-pillars/fpic/en/

[7]https://www.unisdr.org/files/43291_sendaiframeworkfordrren.pdf