Current Fire Practices

2022: Effective spring burn in the Saskatchewan River Delta.

2022: Effective spring burn in the Saskatchewan River Delta.

Indigenous-led fire practices continue to contribute to favourable conditions for Indigenous Peoples, including improving fishing, harvesting, hunting, trapping and cooking wild game. Fire is used not only as a practice to carry out stewardship duties to the land, it also plays an important role in Indigenous cultures and is often at the center of Indigenous ceremonies.

Many wildfire management agencies across Canada have now come to accept that fire is a natural, necessary process on the land. However, they often take a strong stance that impacts cultural landscapes and Indigenous Peoples as rightsholders.

Another example is that orders of government in Canada have generally discouraged intentional burning by non-agency burners. This discouragement has resulted in Indigenous Ecological Knowledge not being passed on from Elders and Indigenous fire practitioners to younger generations.

In many instances, Indigenous communities have made efforts to renew and revitalize human-fire relations despite relentless interruptions across the decades by ongoing colonial laws, structures and policies.

Forest management and policy decision-making have resulted in the build-up of fuels in a changing climate. This situation means that engaging in Indigenous-led fire practices and settler and state-led fire management burning is challenging and requires intensive planning and pre-treatments to allow fire practices to be used on the land in a good and safe way.

In some cases, fire practices simply cannot take place as they could damage forests and surrounding ecosystems due to the high intensity burns that would result.

The following are five major barriers to revitalizing Indigenous-led fire practices in Canada:[1]

1. Perceptions, authority and jurisdiction

Jurisdiction, authorization and land management are often in conflict with the full recognition of Aboriginal title and inherent rights on territories and areas of interest and associated land use led by Indigenous Peoples. 

2. Governance, laws and management

Current governance, laws and management that pertain to Indigenous-led fire practices (refer to “perceptions, authority and jurisdiction”) create inequities and power imbalances between colonial orders of government and Indigenous governance and knowledge systems.

Non-Indigenous allies and strategic partners can learn from Indigenous Peoples, groups and communities about Indigenous-led fire practices, for example, where, when and how to burn to meet specific objectives.

However, Indigenous-led fire practices should not be replicated as an institutionalized management program outside their cultural context. This is considered cultural appropriation.

Instead, special ethical considerations are needed to respect and nurture the cultural foundations of Indigenous-led fire practices rooted in people, identity, land and place.

3. Access, accreditation and training

Credential-focused training creates a gatekeeping structure in wildfire management agencies.

Despite having years of practical experience and leadership in Indigenous-led fire practices and wildfire management, Indigenous Peoples are often excluded.

4. Liabilities and insurance

Due to ongoing perceptions of fire being hazardous, there are policy barriers to liability and insurance coverage for Indigenous-led fire practices to  revitalize burning across some parts of Canada. 

5. Capacity and resources

Funding for Indigenous-led fire practices is typically for time-limited projects with restrictive activities.

This limited funding results in the lack of timely access to financial support to develop, implement and report on Indigenous-led fire prescriptions.