Centering Indigenous Voices: The Role of Fire in the Boreal Forest of North America

Amy Christianson
Colin Sutherland
Faisal Moola
Noémie Bautista
David Young
Heather MacDonald
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Indigenous perspectives have often been overlooked in fire management in North America. With a focus on the boreal region of North America, this paper provides a review of the existing literature documenting Indigenous voices and the historical relationship of Indigenous peoples in northern North America to fire and landscapes that burn.

Early research on the topic explored how Indigenous people used fire in the boreal forest, with most research coming out of case studies in northern Alberta. Emerging research in the last two decades has broadened the geographic focus to include case studies in Alaska, Ontario, Labrador, and other regions in North America. This broadening of focus has shown that the diversity of Indigenous peoples in North America is reflected in a diversity of relationships to fire and landscapes that burn. Of note is an emerging interest in Indigenous fire knowledge in the wake of settler colonialism.

Indigenous peoples in the boreal forest have applied fire on their landscapes to fulfill numerous objectives for thousands of years. More than a tool, Indigenous peoples in the boreal view fire as an agent, capable of movement, destruction and creation, acting on the landscape to create order, within a living, connected environment. Unfortunately, restrictions on the application of Indigenous fire knowledge and practice initiated during early colonial times remains a contemporary challenge as well.