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People & Planet: Indigenous Fires in the Great Lakes Region

March 29, 2023 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Various ecosystems are dependent upon fire to create and maintain their landscapes. Indigenous peoples around the world, including those of the Great Lakes region, have regularly worked with fire both culturally and ecologically as a means to managing these ecosystems for thousands of years until federal laws halting this practice emerged to “protect” lands. This was under the falsehood that by “maintaining” an “untouched and pristine” wilderness, unintentional and uncontrolled wildfires could be prevented. Fire exclusion policies criminalized Indigenous burnings – suppressing and damaging cultural relationships with the land and vital knowledge of fire’s necessary presence in many forested ecosystems. 

While many of us associate fire – wild and prescribed – with the western United States, it has an important history here in the Great Lakes region as well. Research at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center (CFC) (and elsewhere in the region), in collaboration with Anishinaabe knowledge holders, has highlighted the western viewpoint’s preference for dehumanized and fire-excluded forested ecosystems. This has prompted work to collaboratively restore ecoculturally significant fire back to the CFC landbase. In an article covering the effort, Clare Boerigter notes that cultural burning in Minnesota “prompted an abundance of blueberries, historically a staple food source for the Fond du Lac Band and other Ojibwe, and cleared understories of dense brush, giving a competitive edge to fire-adapted red pines while creating a welcoming environment for villages and camps.”

It is evident that criminalization of Indigenous burnings was counterintuitive, allowing non-local beings, both plant and animal, to thrive in a landscape – snuffing out other ecologically and culturally important ecosystems/species. How can we continue to build Indigenous relationships with the land and fire and what benefits can Indigenous burning practices have as a climate change adaptation strategy in our region and beyond?

Join Ferin Davis Anderson, Supervisor of Environmental Sciences, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Lane Johnson, UMN Cloquet Forestry Center (CFC) Research Forester; Melonee Montano, UMN-TC Natural Resources Science and Management (NRSM) Grad Student; and moderator Mike Dockry, IonE Fellow, Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC) Program Lead for Tribal Relations and UMN Assistant Professor, Forest Resources, for a conversation on Indigenous fire in the Great Lakes region.

Specific questions will delve into:

  • What is the fire history of our Midwest region? 
  • What are managers doing today with fire use?
  • What is Indigenous fire use, especially in relation to prescribed (Rx) fire?
  • What is the overarching role of climate change in these topics?

Registration is required through Eventbrite for access to the Zoom link. If you have any questions, please contact ioneevents@umn.edu

This event will be held hybrid. Register for either in-person (limited) at the IonE offices (1954 Buford Ave, St Paul) or virtual via Zoom.


March 29, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Learning and Environmental Sciences Building
1954 Buford Ave
St Paul, MN 55108 United States
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