B.C. wildfires: Indigenous report calls for change to response, recovery
An Indigenous-led review of a massive wildfire that destroyed more than 100 homes in British Columbia's southern Interior four years ago has produced 30 calls to action to improve wildfire management and recovery practices.
The Elephant Hill wildfire scorched more than 1,900 square kilometres of land in the summer of 2017, directly affecting numerous First Nations.
The report released by the Secwepemcul'ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society asserts the fire could have been better managed if the province, including the wildfire service, had worked with Indigenous communities earlier and more actively throughout the response and recovery processes.
The society based in Kamloops, B.C., was founded by eight Secwepemc communities affected by the blaze, and the report chronicles their experiences and push toward a more collaborative approach with the B.C. government.
It asserts that poor communication, a lack of guidance from the province about immediate wildfire threats and evacuations, as well as widespread frustration that Secwepemc knowledge and abilities were ignored, have led to “deep mistrust of fire agencies and a strong feeling of 'being on your own'.”
A joint leadership council was later struck to respond to the Elephant Hill fire, involving both Secwepemc and provincial officials. The report states the majority of those interviewed during the review felt that the process succeeded in strengthening relationships. But it points to a disconnect between B.C.'s high-level commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the way First Nations are supported and involved in decision-making in their territories.
Wildfires that are growing increasingly intense with climate change mean that advancing Indigenous leadership in wildfire management requires not only upholding Indigenous rights, it states, but also “confronting the underlying issues of unsustainable resource extraction and land and fire management that have created the conditions” for recurring, major fires.
“I've lived through two megafires and I've seen the impacts, my community members have seen the impacts, and it's time for change,” said Angie Kane, CEO of the Secwepemcul'ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society.
“It's a collective management and our government really needs to sit down and revamp its forest practices as well as its firefighting processes,” said Kane, who was working as the manager for High Bar First Nation and living in Clinton when the Elephant Hill fire swept through the area.
Sarah Dickson-Hoyle, co-author of the report and a doctoral candidate in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia, pointed to one specific example of how the province could have improved its response.
Ranchers and hunters from Skeetchestn Indian Band went to the wildfire service's camp offering to share their deep knowledge of the land, but they were met with pushback or lack of recognition of their expertise, she said.
There were some exceptions, she noted, including an Australian firefighting official who was stationed near the nation's reserve in the Deadman Valley, where wind patterns are known to shift throughout the day. He worked with Skeetchestn members to determine fire suppression strategies, she said.
The Elephant Hill review included interviews with wildfire service officials and found “widespread agreement” that in 2017, there were no consistent, meaningful expectations for their firefighting crews to work with First Nations or any local communities, Dickson-Hoyle said in an interview.
The degree to which First Nations are involved in the official response to wildfires in B.C.seems to depend on the incident commander at the time, she said, noting crews often rotate every couple of weeks and relationship building between fire crews and local leaders must start all over again.
The report calls on the wildfire service to provide consistent direction to all incident commanders to connect with local First Nations representatives right away when responding to a fire, and to strengthen the role of First Nations liaison officers who can share information with the broader community and facilitate collaboration with local knowledge keepers.
While there have been some positive changes since 2017, Dickson-Hoyle said First Nations are still not seeingin-depth meetings ahead of each fire season. The report calls for meetings to identify key points of contact and existing resources, such as community members trained in firefighting.
“We've had billions of dollars spent on wildfire response,” she said. “I just wonder how things might have been different if that much money was put into capacity building and resourcing and planning with First Nations.”
The B.C. government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Elephant Hill report calls for long-term funding to establish First Nations emergency management offices, including resources and training for emergency coordinator roles, initial attack crews and Indigenous firekeepers.
It calls for a permit system with more flexibility and reduced oversight for cultural burning, or lighting fires for cultural purposes when conditions were favourable, a practice that was suppressed throughout the last century.
Dickson-Hoyle is also working with the tree ring lab at the University of B.C. to determine the history of fire across the southern Interior, finding that many blazes prior to the early 1900s were the result of Indigenous Peoples lighting fires for cultural purposes. The low-intensity flames would clear the land of fallen leaves, branches and brush that provide fuel for bigger fires, she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
A small group of Canadian special forces has been deployed to Ukraine, a country on the brink of an armed conflict with Russia, CTV News has confirmed.
From cars buried in snow to ambulances scrambling through barely visible streets, CTVNews.ca has collected images showing the extent of the snowfall across Toronto and parts of Ontario.
Ghislaine Maxwell will no longer fight to keep the names of eight 'John Does' secret and will leave it to the court to decide whether the names should be unsealed, according to a Jan. 12 letter to federal Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York.
Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in massacres in Norway in 2011, appeared before a parole hearing Tuesday, seemingly more focused on spreading white supremacist propaganda than gaining an improbable early release from prison.
Chinese officials have alleged that Beijing's first case of the Omicron variant may have travelled to the city through a piece of mail from Canada, but experts tell CTV News that the claim doesn't add up.
Ottawa paramedics are thanking an eight-year-old boy for saving an elderly man who was almost completely buried in snow during a blizzard Monday morning.
Newly released documents show the Finance Department last year warned that the pace of price increases could gain speed, even as the Liberal government and central bank maintained that inflationary pressures were temporary.
A small group of Canadian special forces have been deployed to Ukraine, health experts dispute Beijing's Omicron case came from a Canadian parcel and Leylah Fernandez's run at the Australian Open ends early. Here’s what you need to know today.
U.S. Football coach cancels weightlifting, tells players to shovel driveways, help neighbours instead
While a number of activities were cancelled due to winter weather throughout the Pittsburgh region, one local high school football coach found the snowfall as an opportunity to allow his players to give back.
Three more people in the Vancouver Island region died of COVID-19 over the weekend, among 22 deaths recorded across the province since Friday.
Police are asking witnesses to come forward after a man suffered multiple stab wounds in Victoria on Saturday night.
British Columbia Premier John Horgan says he has completed his cancer treatment and is expected to return to his office in the coming weeks.
Alberta justice minister to 'step back' from duties during conduct review after traffic ticket: Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney has asked Alberta's justice minister to "step back" from his ministerial duties until an independent review into his conduct following a distracted-driving ticket he received in 2021 is completed.
A new report released Monday suggests Albertans are concerned about debt.
Alberta reported 23 COVID-19 deaths since Friday, including that of a child in the 5-9 age group with no pre-existing conditions. A total of 3,403 Albertans have died due to COVID-19.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now isolating.
There is still a possibility of more flurries in Toronto as residents start the lengthy cleanup process following Monday’s massive snowstorm.
People in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario are struggling to trudge their way through heaps of snow as a blizzard forcibly swept its way through parts of the province.
LIFE UNMASKED | COVID-19 is airborne. Why is this so controversial?
In Life Unmasked’s first episode of 2022, the team speaks with two experts to find out what it actually means for COVID-19 to be airborne.
The University Hospital Centre (CHU) of Quebec said Monday that a four-year-old girl had died "due to circumstances related to COVID-19."
After a nearly three-week saga, the organizer of the ill-fated Sunwing trip to Mexico is back in Quebec -- and was ticketed on his way from the border, since he drove into Canada after the start of the 10 p.m. curfew Sunday night.
Dissatisfaction brewing for weeks at McGill's School of Social Work has led to a rebellion, as undergraduates voted on Monday to refuse to return to in-person classes for at least a month after the scheduled date of Jan. 24.
A winter storm has touched down in southern Manitoba, prompting the cancellation of schools and buses around the province.
Manitoba will be getting 1,100 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 antiviral treatment called Paxlovid.
The hospitalization count continues to climb in Manitoba as there are now more than 600 people requiring care due to COVID-19.
Saskatoon police say three people are facing charges after a firearm was located inside a vehicle during a traffic stop Sunday night.
Marlene Cerda graduated high school in June and opened a fashion retail store a few weeks later.
Filipino nurses face hurdles to come work in Canada compared to other countries, according to two Philippines-based recruiting companies.
Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) announced plans to build Canada’s largest renewable diesel facility, along with a Canola Processing Plant, in Regina.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe's approval rating rose two points but remains below 50 per cent, according to the latest polling data from the Angus Reid Institute.
A Regina mother is continuing her plea for information about the whereabouts of her seven-year-old daughter, who she said is being withheld from her by her ex-husband.
Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting four new deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday.
New Brunswick reports two COVID-19 related deaths Monday, 322 health-care workers test positive for the virus
New Brunswick health officials reported two more deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday.
Daycare operators in Nova Scotia say the rush to $10/day childcare in five years may end up putting some out of business a lot sooner than that.
Snow squalls have resulted in several bus cancellations or delays across Southwestern and Midwestern Ontario.
A Good Samaritan in Norfolk County helped save the lives of several farm animals following a large barn fire Monday.
Sarnia, Ont. police have arrested three suspects and are searching for a fourth following a robbery earlier this month involving a handgun.
Sudbury Student Services Consortium has cancelled an additional four school bus routes for Jan. 18, as COVID-19 affects grow.
The North East Tri-Board Student Transportation service has cancelled 16 school bus routes Tuesday, the second day back to in-person learning since before Christmas.
Westbound lanes of Hwy. 401 have been closed off in Cambridge following a crash, bringing traffic to a standstill.
A snow squall watch is in effect for Waterloo Region Tuesday as snow events remain in place for the major cities in the area.
A vehicle is being considered a total loss after it reportedly caught fire near a busy Waterloo intersection.