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Situating Indigenous knowledge for resilience in fire-dependent social-ecological systems

Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Canada
Shannon M Hagerman, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Canada
Lori D Daniels, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Canada


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With the growing challenge of addressing modern fire risk, land managers and researchers are increasingly looking to Indigenous knowledge as a primary source of information for enabling resilience of fire-dependent social-ecological systems (SES). Although this is an important step forward for recognizing the contribution of Indigenous peoples to fire-dependent landscapes, current SES research in fire contexts views knowledge as detached from power, reflecting a critique in SES resilience research more broadly. Integrating Indigenous knowledge into dominant colonial management paradigms (such as “command and control” management of fire) without attention to these power asymmetries will lead to inequitable solutions to modern wildfire challenges. To address this gap, we employ the concept of situated resilience—which views knowledge as a process contextualized within power dynamics—to a case study of a fire-dependent SES in the traditional territory of the T'exelc (Williams Lake First Nation), in the land now known as British Columbia, Canada. Through a “collaborative experiment” research design that incorporated iterative, long-term, ethical research relationships guiding knowledge co-production in forest walks, we engaged with T'exelc Elders, archaeologists, and forest managers to explore the context of Indigenous fire knowledge and situate Indigenous definitions of resilience in future forest management. Results indicate that for the T'exelc, the intentional use of fire to support their livelihoods was lost due to colonialism. This colonial context disrupted place-based, intergenerational knowledge transmission and resulted in forest management devoid of respect. However, employing the concept of situated resilience moved us beyond a preoccupation with the content of fire knowledge toward actively shifting the colonial context in which T'exelc knowledge was embedded. Through our collaborative experiment, and the trust built among T'exelc Elders, archaeologists, and forest managers, future forest management will more directly work to restore intergenerational knowledge exchange and respect and situate Indigenous-led resilience to modern wildfire challenges.

Key words

fire; Indigenous fire stewardship; Indigenous knowledge; resilience; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087