[News] Karuk Tribe Leads Effort to Fight Racism and Climate Change with Fire

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 16 11:44:06 EDT 2020


https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/16/karuk-tribe-leads-effort-to-fight-racism-and-climate-change-with-fire/
Karuk
Tribe Leads Effort to Fight Racism and Climate Change with Fire
by Dan Bacher <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/mrnhdyk111/>- October
16, 2020
------------------------------

The day after Indigenous Peoples Day was celebrated worldwide, the
indigenous-led Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) announced it
is organizing its annual Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange
(KTREX). though organizers said it will look very different from past years.

“Organizers believe this is all the more urgent as the United States (and
the World) reckon with the hard truths of how hundreds of years of
ecological injustices have shaped our present threat of increasingly severe
catastrophic wildfire in the West,” according to a press release from the
WKRP and the Karuk Tribe.

“This event occurs each fall and builds local capacity to utilize lower
intensity prescribed fire as a fuels-reduction tool,” the partnership
stated. “Although KTREX has only been happening for the last six years,
Karuk (and other Indigenous People have been using prescribed fire since
time immemorial. Burning is a cultural and spiritual practice that serves
numerous vital functions to the natural resources on which Karuk People
depend. For example, frequent burning increases the quality and quantity of
basketry materials, acorn crops, fish and wildlife habitat, and ensures the
community’s safety during wildfire season by reducing fuels.”

“With the invasion of European settlers and the establishment of the Forest
Service as the supreme authority over Karuk land, many of these practices
were criminalized, and Karuk People have been killed or jailed for trying
to carry on their traditions. This, along with intensive timber extraction
for the past 70 years, has converted patchworks of diverse, fire-resilient
habitats with regular burning into over-crowded Douglas fir plantations
with dense fuels, creating the perfect setup for catastrophic fires,” the
partnership said.

Bill Tripp, Director of Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources, said,
“The use of fire is our responsibility as Karuk People to our lands,
waters, plants and animals. It is a birthright we have never ceded. Putting
fire back into the hands of our people is a major step toward justice for
our people and the environment.”

“While previous years have drawn participants from around the world, this
year, KTREX planners are taking COVID-19 precautions into consideration by
having only local participants.This wildfire season has also been
devastating to our local communities, as many have lost their homes or been
forced to evacuate and watch much of their natural resources torch
completely,” the release stated.

For this reason, instead of trying to force all of the prescribed fire into
a two-week event managed by a Type 3 incident management team, local crews
will be conducting prescribed burns over the course of the entire fall as
windows allow, according to Tripp.

in an essay published in the UK Guardian on September 16, Tripp wrote that
the solution to the devastating West Coast wildfires “is to burn like our
Indigenous ancestors have for millennia.”

”As wildfires rage across California, it saddens me that Indigenous
peoples’ millennia-long practice of cultural burning has been ignored in
favor of fire suppression,” wrote Tripp. “But it breaks my heart, that
regardless of our attempts to retain our cultural heritage and manage our
homelands in a manner consistent with our Indigenous customs, the Slater
fire is burning down the homes of our tribal members, our tribal staff and
our community.”

On the same day that the essay was published, the Tribe declared a state of
emergency in the wake of the deadly Slater Fire that has burned many homes
of Karuk Tribe members in the Klamath River community of Happy Camp.

Will Harling, Director of the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, posed the
question to the Forks of Salmon and Happy Camp communities at recent public
meetings for the Red Salmon Complex and the Slater Fire: “Even after all
the smoke we have had to breathe this summer and all the tragedy, do you
think it’s a good idea to try and get ahead of future wildfires with
prescribed fire this Fall when conditions allow?”

“Nearly all local folks at these meetings supported the use of fire to help
prevent future catastrophe. Their patience with and support of our efforts
has been key to our organizations’ work,” noted Harling.

Harling said this is a move towards a more ideal form of fire management
that past TREXs have been working towards — allowing local people to remain
flexible and seize the best burn windows when they arise.

“If we can burn throughout the entire fall, not only will we be able to
protect and manage more land, but we will also be more nimble and able to
maximize the benefits of burning to communities and ecosystems,“ said Vikki
Preston, regular participant in KTREX and local Karuk/Yurok woman.

“Building up local capacity to face the global climate crisis is perhaps
the most effective method of surviving and adapting to the rapidly changing
world. Cooperative stewardship that focuses not only on environmental
causes but also social and racial inequities is going to be required to
build this momentum. Organizers hope that collaboratives such as the WKRP
can help teach other communities around the world innovative solutions for
living with fire as it makes its way back onto the landscape,” the
partnership concluded.

*Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached
at: Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com <danielbacher at fishsniffer.com>.*
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