By Helen Duan
4 million acres ablaze and engulfed in flames. Once blue and bright skies are now dark, smokey, and orange. People are now facing not just a global pandemic but also a wildfire crisis. It is California’s dry and hot season right now, and wildfires are becoming out of control this year. Wildfires have been destroying homes, hurting and killing animals, and burning down many trees in places such as Yosemite and Big Basin. This year, California has experienced the worst recorded wildfire in history. However, we can prevent these types of wildfires in the future. During this wildfire crisis, we have been looking and bringing back indigenous cultures with the help of people who can teach us their traditions. They are here helping us because they want to protect their ancestral land just as their ancestors did in the past.
A 64-year-old Paiute grandma named Alveta Coats helps clear away foliage. Her Paiute ancestors took care of the forest for over 7,000 years. Now, it is her turn to protect her ancestral homeland. This was an opportunity to fix the problems we created. However, a 93-year-old grandma named Helen Coats, one of the last members of the Paiute tribe, is in the same situation as Coats but is left with no resources due to her tribe’s forced relocation. In the past, the Paiute tribe, the Miwuk tribe, and the indigenous groups set fires to encourage the growth of vegetation and to kill insect pests. They burned vegetation to trigger the sprouting in oak trees to get prized nuts. Then, instead of spending time in protecting their land, the tribes were forced to do jobs, such as service jobs, performing for tourists, and more. Without indigenous customs to address fires, we are now facing unprecedented amounts of wildfires.
When Helen’s family, the Paiute tribe, and the Miwuk tribe were relocated, the forests started to get out of hand. At the border, between Oregan and California, flames have been destroying over 150 homes and killing 2 people at Happy Camp. Now, people at Happy Camp are evacuating. If the Karuks are allowed to burn the forest, Happy Camp might be averted from wildfires. People are looking to natives for years now for their help. Many blame the government for causing so many problems because it has prohibited natives from practicing helpful wildfire prevention customs. A new law is now allowing dead material to accumulate, and it requires the need to intentionally burn 4,000 acres a year now just as the natives once did to prevent large wildfires.
Luckily, we have solutions to save our forests and creatures. Natives played a big role in fighting fire with fire. They set fire to clear grazes and reinvigorate soil. Now, lightning-spark is allowed to burn freely. Also, we have Alevta Coats and a team of natives are protecting our forest like her ancestors did for over 7,000 years. A crew called Calaveras Healthy Impact Products Solutions (CHIPS) gathered many people, including Alveta Coats, to help with handling restoration. The other team is taking care of cutting and sawing. For 4 years, Coats have been replanting and gathering things such as meadow grass, acorns, black oaks, and more! She planted milkweeds to attract more butterflies. “Replanting makes me feel good,” Coats said in “Their Tribe was Evicted From Yosemite. Now It's Their Job To Protect It From Wildfires,” a SFGate article by Ashley Harrell.
As you can see, the Native American tribes’ customs can help to protect us from wildfires, and there should be more respect and support for Native Americans. We have made many problems throughout the past few years, which caused many large wildfires that have burned land and homes and hurt both humans and animals. Now, we need the Native American tribes to guide us and teach us how to protect our and their land from wildfires with their old customs. They can teach us what to burn and how much, what to replant, and how to do this annually. Together, we can work together to prevent these large wildfires from ravaging through California in the future.
“Their Tribe was Evicted From Yosemite. Now It's Their Job To Protect It From Wildfires,” a SFGate article by Ashley Harrell. Link here
“Fighting Wildfires With Fire” a Wall Street Journal article by Richard Schiffman. Link here
Resources and for further reading:
Calaveras Healthy Impact Products Solutions (CHIPS) http://www.calaveraschips.org/
California Fire Resources - https://www.fire.ca.gov/resources/
PEW - “California May Need More Fire to Fix its Wildfire Problem” (article) https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/09/18/california-may-need-more-fire-to-fix-its-wildfire-problem
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