Indigenous-led stewardship could help Canada tackle wildfire seasons, B.C. research suggests

Wildland firefighter Sasha Terhoch sprays water on hot spots remaining from a controlled burn the B.C. Wildfire Service conducted to help contain the White Rock Lake wildfire on Okanagan Indian Band land, northwest of Vernon, B.C., on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

With a new wildfire season starting in the province, a recent study from the University of British Columbia is recommending the removal of barriers so Indigenous burning practices can be used to help control blazes.

The UBC study, titled "The Right to Burn," looks at how cultural burning can fit into the Western system, by re-engaging fire stewardship across Canada and revitalizing the practice.

Kira Hoffman, a post-doctoral researcher at UBC and one of the lead authors of the study, told CTV News Vancouver the study considers some of the barriers that are currently in place.

"What we examined was the role of cultural burning across broader Indigenous territories. So right now there is a lot of permitting that is required in order to burn off reserve or outside private land," she explained.

"So we looked at how we can get fire on the broader land base, and what that means is Indigenous territories."

Researchers examined how fire is "embedded in Indigenous sovereignty" and the rights to engage in ceremony, Hoffman said.

"We need to identify another way of living with fire, of understanding fire and supporting fire, because at the end of the day, fire is a really healthy part of ecosystems but as well of human communities," she said.

Last month, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs told CTV News Vancouver Indigenous communities need to be more involved in B.C.'s wildfire management. 

"We need to be part of the chain of command," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said. "We have Indigenous traditional knowledge of the land and the wind patterns and so on and so forth, so our people have got to be centrally involved in the entire issue of wildfires."

Phillip said he is "gravely concerned" about the upcoming wildfire season.

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin also said last month the province is "learning to do better with communication with Indigenous communities."

This year's provincial budget includes $145 million over three years to strengthen B.C.'s emergency management and wildfire services. In part, the funding is to move the BC Wildfire Service from its current reactive model of fire response to a more proactive one.

More than 80 wildfires have been recorded in B.C. since the start of April.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alissa Thibault