Indigenous community members talk about losing the cultural fire in the Okanagan and hoping to bring it back – Penticton News

Interior Salish and Syilx Fire Keepers spoke about the importance of burning culture and encouraging collaboration between Indigenous peoples and the province Friday, as part of Penticton’s FireSmart Interview Series.

Two speakers representing the Penticton Indian Band and the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society spoke about the history and current state of fires for Indigenous communities, with lessons on environmental protection.

There is a long history of burning for indigenous peoples, a practice they used to protect their lands.

“Since the introduction of fire suppression with growth and population, a changing climate, the advancement of invasive species and the banning of cultural burning, the landscape has changed and no longer reflects the environment once held by the Indigenous communities,” emergency program coordinator Brittany Siebert from the City of Penticton said in her introduction.

“Now the risk is too high to easily reintroduce a cultural fire without the complex community planning and then the guidance of Indigenous elders, fire keepers and fire knowledge holders. »

As the speaker said, there needs to be more collaboration between bands, government and the BC Wildfire Service in the use of cultural and prescribed burns.

“There must be [collaboration] for fire-dependent culture, where you kind of have to reduce fuels and around the community while supporting the development of your ecosystem,” said Harry Spahan, an indigenous Interior Salish fire keeper from the First Nation. of Cold Water.

“There are a lot of different lessons that need to be learned about fire suppression fire. How it worked and what could work better and what are some of the key things we can move forward in terms of messaging.

Spahan spent decades working with the Forest Protection Branch, now BC Wildfire Service, as an incident commander. He, like many others in his community, first learned from the elders why fire is used on the land.

“That’s why we’re working with the Salish Fire Keepers is that we think bringing in that traditional firefighter and being able to think more about our communities and keep them up to date with fire knowledge,” said he declared.

“My people have words for the slope, the fuel, the side of the mountain where the wind comes from,” added Xwestikin, a Syilx traditional knowledge keeper from the Penticton Indian Band.

“They didn’t just start a fire. It was a thoughtful process and there was a way of learning how to do things… There is a time to burn that to get rid of all that old dead fuel.

Xwestikin explained that while today’s technological advancements are used to help identify areas of fuel to burn, his indigenous community has studied and understood the land over centuries, learning when to use fire.

“Our people have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years…And the environment has always been preserved long ago. But over time, times have changed and our people could not go out and do the things that we had naturally done to take care of the environment,” he said.

“In our minds, I think we want to put the earth back on fire and manage cultural and natural resources. Spahan added. “We need to develop good relationships with each other to help each other, using traditional knowledge as well as available science.”

When asked if they could change any policy or piece of legislation to help First Nations communities reignite the fire, Xwestikin said that right now it comes down to the fact that Indigenous peoples are still excluded. of the conversation.

“We should be involved before they even discuss where they should burn because otherwise how are we going to have a relationship? How else are we going to work together? We must intervene before the designated place [burns],” he said.

“The whole system is broken, the reality is that we are not in a healthy environment. It’s reality. This is something to really think about. And then it doesn’t get better. But by working together, we can make this place a better place.

Penticton FireSmart will host another series of talks next Friday on emergency preparedness, which will run from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

Participation is free with the option to attend virtually.

Seats can be reserved by visiting Penticton FireSmart’s Eventbrite page hereor by emailing the team at [email protected]