In An Era Of Super Fires
We now live in an “Era of Super Fires.” Their origin goes back to those who behaved as irresponsible ancestors.
Who prioritized economic capital gain over the land. This foolishness was compounded by their lack of TEK and IKS, or Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Without ecological wisdom, they were shortsighted regarding the impacts their decisions would have on the land and thus people. A phenomenon that continues today via all extractive resource industries.
During Teddy Rosevelt's presidency, it became policy for forest fires to be suppressed.
People think this may have been good. But it's whack for multiple reasons...
The first reason is the intention behind why this all started: to ensure more trees and thus profit for the lumber industry.
When one goes onto the land today, the trees you likely will see are third or fourth generation trees. Their ancestors are the original old growth trees.
Imagine when you walk on the land, that the trees you see are giants. They are spread out and can breath, with the forest floor clear of debris and flourishing with diverse flora and fauna.
These are the ancestors of the new growth trees who have been planted then cut down, then planted and cut down again. The trees we see today are mere adolescents in comparison to their old growth great, great grandparents.
These adolescent trees of today are also often crowding each other. From a logging perspective, the more trees, the better.
Cultural burns used to manage new tree saplings, thinning trees with heat. In ways that returned nitrogen back to the old growth trees, their plant relatives and waterways.
From a spiritual-ecological perspective, we understand that lands already strained by climate change and droughts cause competition among crowded trees for resources to grow and stay alive, that leaves them ever increasingly strained. Across the world, trees are dying. Distressed by varying factors. Including this example of poor steward of the land.
And there are other impacts we see on the land due to the suppression of fire. Here in the Southwest, the Juniper Mistletoe are taking over the juniper and parasitically killing them. So too are the tree beetles. Both of whom's populations were once managed by fire, ensuring they did not over-power their hosts. Yet today, they are having crippling impacts upon our local trees.
Today’s environmental crisis of “Super Fires” is a direct consequence of people lacking and not respecting ecological wisdom and common sense. Blinded by capital gain, they do not see nor understand how their meddling will off-center ecological equilibrium and impact future generations. Essentially, fucking over their own great grand children.
This is a blatant example of being an irresponsible ancestor, to future generations.
Examples of this are abound.
One example is the toxic blowout in our Animas/San Juan/Colorado river back home in 2015. This was caused by gold and silver miners burrowing thousands of unstable tunnels and cavities throughout the head of local watersheds. Over time, these collected water and underground contaminants, that over the generations since, blown more than once into the water systems. As we stood at the riverbanks witnessing our Mother’s lifeblood running with yellow sickness, our parents recanted a time the river ran black from a nine blowout. They were our age then. Leaving behind just as devastating ecological impacts then as today. Especially upon local Indigenous communities who most heavily rely on the river for life. Will our children someday stand at the riverbanks and grief our river again, as we did? What color then, will our river run?
Another obvious example is the long term impacts of mining. Depleted uranium, which is processed uranium, is what comprises the thousands upon thousands of tailings piles across the Southwest, primarily upon Navajo and Pueblo traditional lands.
Depleted uranium's half-life is 4.5 billion years.
Meaning, this radioactive mess left behind by federal government and corporate driven mining that violently continues to contaminate the organic bodies of land, water, animal and human isn't going anywhere for a very long time.
In contrast, responsible ancestors viewed the practice of cultural burns and natural fires as a healthy prescription for the land. They traditionally were frequent. But much smaller and manageable.
Fires are engrained in many Indigenous cultural/spiritual ecological wisdom.
In so-called California, when first invading the land, the Spanish noted how the Indigenous territories resembled endless well-kept gardens... because they essentially were.
And in so called Australia, only now are scientists discovering how a local bird sets wild fires by flying with and dropping flaming twigs, -an ecological occurrence that has been inherently integral to local Indigenous awareness and ecological knowledge. Australian Aboriginal local communities themselves also implement fire to manage and keep the land healthy.
Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island practice, participate and view these "cultural burns" as healthy for the land, and thus people. Past and present, they steward the land with flame. Likely since the beginning of time.
This prescription ensured: the return of nitrogen back to the soil, a cleaning up of fuel from the ground and bottoms of trees, germination of seeds that require heat, charcoal that traveled into watersheds -helping filter and purify them, and more.
Without these fires, dangerous build ups of organic fuel develop over time. This is compounded by the impacts of climate change and drought. This is a formula for disaster.
Today, ‘Super Fires’ burn so hot that they boil the soil. This has the potential to sterilize the earth and makes it difficult for plants to reseed and germinate.
As a consequence of those in the past making unwise economic decisions at the expense of the ecology, Turtle Island is now unnaturally ablaze.
So what do we do? How do we, in the face of these disasters, respond? To ensure that we, in contrast, live lives that make us good, responsible ancestors?
Politicians and businessmen often defend extractive resource industries through the need of jobs. -Be they mining, fracking, pipelines, logging, etc.
If jobs are priority, may then can’t we shift into developing and managing employment opportunists via "controlled burning" and "conservation" crews?
The beauty of these jobs are that they are not hostaged by the predictable and unsustainable "boom and bust" cycles inherent to extractive resource industries. Consequentially, WE are not held hostage by what Winona LaDuke refers to are predatory economics.
Careers in cultural burns and conservation work rooted in Indigenous ecological wisdom rather than economic gain foster sustainable, long-term employment. For stewardship is an ongoing responsibility that stays w us until our last breath.
A critical bonus is that this work has the potential to remediate and heal the water: increasingly returning charcoal back into our watersheds restores one of the most fundamental, original, natural filters that purifies Earth Mother’s waterways. This is a big deal for many of communities who currently do not have safe, drinkable water in their territories and homes.
We also need to support Indigenous communities in the restoration and vibrant practices rooted in their Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Cultural burns being one of the most vital.
Scientists are only barely beginning to check their bias and racism. Some scientists are bringing to credit, listen and learn from Indigenous people’s to better understand climate change and sustainable ways to adapt to violent shifts occurring across Earth Mother.
Indigenous people’s and their ecological wisdom must lead the way in healing the land and ourselves. This requires responsible, humble allyship rather than appropriation and patriarchal control.
Of course, fires behave very differently now, due to suppression of fire and increasing drought. This is a dilemma we face when aiming to practice cultural burns. Yet the beauty of Indigenous ecological wisdom is it holds within it the agility and knowledge needed to adapt to environmental changes. Within this, therefore, is the potential for the answers to this dilemma: how do we reintroduce cultural burns while preventing super burns?
I believe we also need to support current scorched burn areas left behind by ‘Super Fires’ with seed bombs and other sustainable conservation practices, to ensure these lands grow back healthier than they were previously.
There is a term called bioremediation. It is a fancy word for essentially supporting Earth Mother in healing herself with what she already has.
Reclaiming traditional-ecologically-sound burning practices and seed bombs are two examples of bio-remediation.
Others include using fungi to clean up oil spills. Or growing high productivity algae near intensified sources of CO2 like power plants, refineries, etc. where the algae aggressively consumes and digests the CO2 and releases oxygen, -thus assisting in reducing green house gases that cause global warming.
All of which, I'd like to add, are also long term job opportunities for the masses. That is, if we must continue insisting on living in this capitalistic, wage labor regime.
Finally, it is time to lean into natural healing and health via harvesting from the land, in ways that steward plant medicines and natural resources. This includes leaning into traditional sustainable food ways and activating land based healing.
Plants medicines, food-ways and land-based healing are already being integrated into some school systems and communities across Turtle Island. Cultural protocol rooted in ecological wisdom, cultural life ways and common sense that emphasize reciprocity and conservation are actively being taught and increasingly engaged.
When relatives take their children and each other to the land to harvest medicines and foods, their relationships with Earth Mother are deepened. It is fundamentally healing, when one every increasingly resembles ancestors who held themselves accountable to the land and (super)natural world.
This also re-builds among the masses our awareness to the impacts and shifts in the ecology due to climate change, lack of cultural burns, water shortage, pollution, development, industry, abuse, etc. One example of what we notice, is again, the dying of our trees.
This thus deepens the urgency among the masses to care take Earth Mother, which in turn, care-takes current and future humanity.
What is certain, is that we must strive to ground our current decisions and actions within the long-term vision of how we wish to impact future generations.
It is time, to actively charge the way in stewarding and supporting the land once again. As did ancestors who acted responsibility... who thought and cared for us through their actions and wisdom, long before we were born.
Who must guide that charge, are Indigenous people’s armed with their traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge Systems.
Indigenous peoples and allies... we are children of Earth Mother.
Our common origin requires we equally carry and act upon our profound responsibility to look after the ecology and humanity.
It is imperative that we live lives that will someday make someday will make us good ancestors in our great grandchildren’s eyes.
-Thoughts by Young Yarrow