Indigenous fire futures

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In this article, we highlight strategies that Indigenous communities and scholars are employing to approach wildfire management. We start by introducing the reader to the colonial ecological violence that has resulted from the exclusion of fire and the ways that communities resist the settler colonial paradigm of fire suppression. We then analyze the role of militarism and incarceration within the “fire industrial complex.” Militarism and incarceration have been a part of settler colonial fire suppression in California since the beginning even as they emerge in novel forms in the twenty-first century, and they pose a challenge to regenerative and sovereign Indigenous fire futures. Next, we guide the reader through debates on Indigenous “traditional ecological knowledge” (TEK) and the ways that fire science variously erases, homogenizes, or romanticizes the epistemologically and politically complex practices of Indigenous burners. We advocate that scholars avoid participating in an extractive “TEK rush” and instead enter into direct relationships of accountability and collaboration with Indigenous fire practitioners. We conclude by discussing the ways Indigenous communities build anticolonial movements to assert sovereignty—fire and otherwise—based on reciprocal and relational systems for people and ecosystems. By reframing the current wildfire crisis through the lens of settler colonialism, we bypass unilateral, settler-driven solutions and emphasize that respect for Indigenous fire sovereignty—not only Indigenous fire knowledge—is essential for actualizing just fire futures in California and beyond.

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