Fire, Forests, and Our Lands: An Indigenous Ecological Perspective

Cultural burning, Karuk nation members, northern California

Fire, Forests, and Our Lands: An Indigenous Ecological Perspective

By Hillary Renick

This article is the second in a series of articles published by NPQ, in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), that lift up Native American voices to highlight issues concerning environmental justice in Indian Country and identify ways that philanthropy might more effectively support this work.

As climate change-related mass fires, such as the recent wildfires that engulfed Australia and California illustrate, it is critical that communities learn to respect Indigenous knowledge in fire ecology practice.

Fire, a primary element just as important to the natural cycle as water, has historically been vilified as a purely destructive force in Western science and society for its seemingly uncontrollable nature. This mischaracterization is similar to the early Western views of Indigenous people, and it exposes a critical gap in Western understanding of fire ecology.

While professional researchers increasingly have come to understand the essential productive role that fire plays in our natural system, there remains a lot to be learned from the Indigenous worldview and experience with fire ecology and forest management.