The great hypocrisy of California using Indigenous practices to curb wildfires
October 20, 2020
It is not hyperbolic to describe the 2020 fire season as historically catastrophic. Records for both the largest wildfire and the total number of acres burned in California have already been shattered this year, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, and the past decade’s fire seasons have been demonstrably larger and more intense than the decade before it. The pictures of smoke choking the sun from San Francisco, of fires ripping through the exurban and suburban West are not an aberration; they’re the future.
The causes of today’s wildfires are complex. There is no doubt that global climate change is changing the intensity, size, and duration of wildfires in California. But the fires have ties to the historical and social injustices done to Indigenous peoples — genocide, slavery, the destroying of cultural rites — which have led to the mismanagement and overdevelopment of California lands.
Now, in such a dire fire season, the state has invested new resources into Indigenous fire management techniques, like controlled burning. But this begs the question: How do Indigenous peoples in California feel about being asked to use their cultural practices to help a state that has largely sought to erase them?