Indigenous land stewardship may be the way to prevent wildfires

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

There have been fires raging against the west coast for the past month. This isn’t new either, California and the west coast have been struggling with forest fires for centuries.

Many Indigenous groups have knowledge on how to take care of the land as to prevent forest fires. 

The solution to stop these fires may be to allow Indigenous land stewardship. 

More than thirty people have died as a result of the most recent wildfires. Firefighters have been working day and night while these fires cost billions of dollars in damage. People are becoming homeless as a result of these fires. 

The sky has been turning orange in parts of Oregon and California, while the air quality has gone down exponentially in areas. 

As someone who lived most of their life in California before college, I remember days where it literally rained ash. These fires seem to get worse every year and they aren’t sustainable.

Thankfully, there are ways to prevent wildfires, but many of those methods were gone when Indigenous people were removed from their land in California in the mid-19th century. 

16,000 Native Californians were murdered while others were enslaved or put on reservations. Their methods of preventing wildfires were removed with them.

One way that Indigenous people prevented wildfires was with controlled fires to keep extra kindling from building up. Without these controlled burns, a bunch of dried up vegetation builds up, perfect fuel for fires. 

Because Indigenous people were violently removed from the land they had a relationship with, these managed burns ended. Now the conditions are perfect for one big fire to wipe out a lot of land.

For a long time, it’s been difficult for these cultural burns to take place since Western settlers, who didn’t understand the concept of preventative burning, put restrictions to prevent fires. 

Religious practices by Native Americans were also banned, preventing these burnings from happening for a long time as they were also spiritual. 

It’s time for Indigenous tribes on the west coast to take over land stewardship again. 

It’s actually already started with the Karuk and Yurok tribes partnering with the Forest Service to manage the land. Studies show that this is working to prevent fires.

Of course, California’s landscape looks a lot different now from how it looked before colonization, so cultural burns wouldn’t be the exact same. 

There are also concerns of people who are sensitive to smoke living near where the burnings would take place. That is valid, but it wouldn’t be the biggest price to pay in order to avoid massive wildfires like the ones that happen almost yearly.

However, this is on a smaller scale at the moment. Indigenous people need to be involved with every action taken regarding wildfires on the land that is theirs. 

In fact, this situation sheds light on the fact that Indigenous people need to be more involved in decisions regarding land use all over the country.

Climate change exists and it is causing a lot of natural disasters. We need to turn to the people who have historical relationships with this land and have the knowledge to take care of it. Otherwise, America will be a source of a lot of climate refugees.

Anna Baker is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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