The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) is pleased support the important role of Syilx/Okanagan communities’ responsibility to re-establish prescribed fire on the Okanagan landscape. Active fire suppression has led to extreme fuel loading and vegetation in-growth throughout Syilx/Okanagan Territory. Combined with climate change, fire suppression has led to longer, more intense, and more destructive wildfire seasons and a less resilient forest and grassland ecosystem. A less resilient ecosystem degrades cultural and social values, increases threats to communities and infrastructure and provides fewer natural resources.
Traditionally, the open forest and grassland ecosystems found in the Okanagan-Similkameen areas were maintained by low intensity, controlled burns, lit and managed by the Syilx/Okanagan people. cikilaxwm is the word for traditional burning of the land for the health of our timixw , which is our land and resources. In today’s climate, we also burn for the safety and security of our communities and the people who live on this landscape.
Syilx/Okanagan communities will work to re-establish prescribed fire on the Okanagan landscape in Syilx/Okanagan Territory. On April 25th, the Penticton Indian Band successfully ignited the first prescribed burn through this program, enhancing important wildlife habitat and reducing the risk of fire to nearby communities in the Garnet Valley. Syilx communities have begun to put ‘good fire’ back on the landscape, thanks in part to support and collaboration from FESBC, the Ministry of FLNRORD and the BC Wildfire Service throughout 2016 and 2017.
Several prescribed fire specific projects are already underway, leading the way in community driven, values based, prescribed fire management.
- The Penticton Indian Band (PIB) is working with ONA in the Garnet Valley. This is a collaborative project, supporting new relationships between Syilx/Okanagan communities, the Ministry of FLNRORD, the BC Wildfire Service and many interested stakeholders.
- The Lower Similkameen Indian Band(LSIB) is in the planning phase for a prescribed fire on the East slopes of Crater Mountain, in the Ashnola Valley. This project will implement cikilaxwm to rejuvenate the landscape and resources in this area, and provide much needed habitat for big horn sheep.
“The reasons we used to be able to walk through these kinds of forests with just moccasins on is because we used to keep it so clean” –Pierre Kruger, speaking in the Garnet Valley in 2016 about the cleaning the forest using controlled fire.
In the fall of 2017, Syilx/Okanagan communities worked together with the ONA to develop a project that will move cikilaxwm back onto the landscape on a meaningful, Territory wide scale. The project has a number of 2018 objectives, including continued support for the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) in the Ashnola Valley and Penticton Indian Band (PIB) in the Garnet Valley. The project also supports the development of a Syilx/Okanagan Prescribed Fire Working Group and a collaborative Okanagan Prescribed Fire Steering Committee. Over the 2018 season, the working group and committee will aim to develop phase 1 of a Syilx/Okanagan prescribed fire framework, while continuing to support Syilx/Okanagan communities in the development and implementation of priorities related to cikilaxwm.
Project goals can be broken down into three categories:
- To establish a Syilx cikilaxwm working group, and a collaborative Okanagan Prescribed Fire steering committee, led by Syilx communities.
- To support Syilx/Okanagan communities to develop and implement prescribed fire objectives and projects.
- To provide a platform for relationship building and meaningful, collectively developed landscape management objectives, specifically as they apply to the use of prescribed fire to protect and enhance values and resources.
For more info on wildfires in BC: http://bcfireinfo.for.gov.bc.ca/hprScripts/WildfireNews/News.asp