Wise Practices and Calls to Action

The following are wise practices in revitalizing Indigenous-led fire practices, particularly in the Saskatchewan River Delta:

1. Perceptions, authority and jurisdiction

Authority needs to be delegated to Indigenous groups and communities to approve cultural burning and related uses of fire on the land in Saskatchewan.

This means continuing to work with First Nations and Métis Nations in the Saskatchewan River Delta to develop their own Indigenous-led framework for duty to consult protocols.

The Government of Saskatchewan needs to recognize duty to consult practices and Indigenous laws of First Nations and Métis Peoples in their territories and areas of interest.

The Government of Saskatchewan needs to work with and alongside First Nations and Métis Nations in the Saskatchewan River Delta to be more flexible in allowing for changes in dates due to prime weather windows and staff availability.

2. Governance, laws and management

There is a need for clear definitions of “cultural burning” and “cultural burners” (or Indigenous fire practitioners)—as defined by Indigenous Peoples, groups and communities in the Province of Saskatchewan.

3. Access, accreditation and training

There is an urgent need for EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) policies and enhanced human resource management policies and practices that broaden the scope of education and experience criteria for recruiting, selecting, retaining and promoting Indigenous wildland firefighters in Saskatchewan.

For more information on this topic, check out the Giving Voice to Cultural Safety of Indigenous Wildland Firefighters in Canada executive summary and final report.

4. Liabilities and insurance

There is a need for timely protection from liability and better insurance coverage for cultural burning.

As a promising practice, the State of California has now made changes in its liability legislation to cultural burning.

For more information,

SB-332 Civil liability: Prescribed burning operations: Gross negligence (California, USA)

AB-642 Wildfires (California, USA)

In California, Tribal Members and More Protected from Liability for Cultural, Controlled Burns (article).

5. Funding

There is a need for access to funding—with more flexible funding criteria as opposed to short-term restrictive project activities. Flexible multi-year funding facilitates more planning and collaboration within Indigenous groups and communities and with partnering agencies (for example, Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency) about cultural burning and advancing Indigenous-led fire prescriptions.

6. Capacity and resources

As the Government of Saskatchewan continues to move toward year-round wildfire and related emergency management services, increased capacity and resources (technical, financial and human resources) are needed—both within the Government of Saskatchewan and delegated to Indigenous groups and communities performing the same or similar roles and responsibilities at the local level.

Ché Highway Illustration

These pieces were made during the different scenes at the We are Fire camp. Chairs with the sky pink and the river peaceful, and Cabin during the bright morning of the day we’d leave camp. There was no cell service, so I took out my notebook and time stood still for me as I took it all in.

The last page of random sketches were ideas in my head that needed to be put on paper.

Materials include: Notebook and ballpoint pen.

Illustrations courtesy Jordan Twist.

Reflections: Field Report Notes[1] from the Inaugural We are Fire Camp in the Saskatchewan River Delta

For several years, Renée and Solomon Carrière (Muskrats to Moose Project Team Members) have been working with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and the Government of Saskatchewan (GOS) on uses of fire in the Saskatchewan River Delta that bring together Indigenous-led fire practices and settler and state-led fire management.

The E.B. Campbell Dam has changed the natural cycle of all events that lead to vegetation rejuvenation in the Delta. This change to the natural seasonal cycle combined with the domination of the invasive species such as phragmites (large perennial reed grasses that can reach 10 feet) has resulted in vegetation not being able to rejuvenate. These changes have had a disastrous effect on the numbers of muskrat and moose populations, food, livelihoods and industry for Indigenous trappers and other people whose economies are linked with the health and well-being of the land.

The Carrières, PAGC and the GOS are starting to bring back uses of fire on the land to mitigate affected cultural keystone species and plant species in the Delta and rejuvenate Indigenous-led cultural practices.

The inaugural We are Fire Camp was a land-based learning camp. The spirit and intent of the Camp is revitalizing uses of fire on the land in the Delta across generations.

The We are Fire Camp was carried out in the Saskatchewan River Delta which is located 300 km northeast of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The Niska Lodge (Lat: 54.070275; Long: 102.388133) was the learning site which is a one-hour boat ride from the Village of Cumberland House, northwest into the Delta.

The camp brought together 12 participants to learn about uses of fire on the land and to carry out a burn in a 1.7 hectare site of the Delta on Randy’s Island.

Participants represented the Cumberland House Cree Nation, GOS, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, PAGC, local area registered trappers and outfitters (N-28 and N-90 Trappers) and the Village of Cumberland House.

Camp participants ranged from Youth to Elders who had expertise and training in firefighting and/or Indigenous-led fire stewardship methods. The We are Fire Camp provided experience and training on safety protocols and emergency response; opportunities for cross-cultural sharing of knowledge (including among Indigenous participants); opportunities for intergenerational sharing of knowledge; and opportunities to share new knowledge with a wider audience.

On the burn day of the We are Fire Camp, nine people ran drip torches on the north and south side of the island simultaneously. The wind was from the south around 12 km/hour with the relative humidity at 47%.

All burn activities that day were safely carried out and documented. The burn did not spread to any other island and no other structures were threatened.

Safety training on Indigenous-led fire practices and basic First Aid were provided prior to the burn activities.

The We Are Fire Camp is intended to recognize that uses of fire on the land is a lifestyle and not a specific one- time only event. So, future camps will continue in the future during prime weather windows (for example, winter, spring and fall seasons) to support the rejuvenation of the Delta.

Check out some other land-based learning resources about uses of fire on the land in the Saskatchewan River Delta:

  • Iskōtēw Response 10L/20L Curriculum. This report describes the land-based wildland firefighting curriculum developed by Renée Carrière, with the assistance of Northern Lights School Division (N.L.S.D) #113 consultants. This locally developed and provincially approved course has been delivered to Charlebois Community School students of Cumberland House, Saskatchewan.
  • Muskrats and Fire. This children’s book is based on Renée Carrière’s research on Indigenous-led uses of fire to support land management, for example, trapline burning, plant picking and muskrat trapping. This book has many connections to curriculum and can be used as a land-based learning resource.
2022: Inaugural We are Fire Camp participants braiding Indigenous fire practices and Western fire management.

2022: Inaugural We are Fire Camp participants braiding Indigenous fire practices and Western fire management.

[1]Muskrats to Moose and Prince Albert Grand Council (2022). We Are Fire-Camp 1, Trip Report. Prince Albert Grand Council: Chief Joseph Custer Reserve, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.