There is a growing need for improved methods for managing wildfire risk in northern British Columbia (BC), as uncharacteristically large wildfires exceed government capacities for control and suppression. In 2017, BC experienced the greatest annual area burned in a century (1.22 million hectares), which was quickly surpassed by another record year in 2018 (1.35 million hectares). Thirty-one fires resulted in final fire perimeters encompassing more than 10,000 ha, with the 2018 Plateau complex fire near Burns Lake, BC reaching 545,151 ha. More than half of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires were located in northern BC, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people and resulting in the loss of hundreds of structures. These wildfires disproportionately affected Indigenous peoples living in isolated communities surrounded by forests. Post-fire aerial surveys indicate that forest fuel accumulation as a result of long-term and widespread fire suppression have created a wildfire deficit, contributing to the scale and intensities of the fires.
First Nations have used fire as a tool for resource management and community protection for millennia. Although Indigenous people continue to be keepers of fire knowledge, Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) and western science remain independent and IEK has been systematically devalued and largely ignored. As a result, few long-term fire histories have been reconstructed in subboreal pine and spruce forests, and very little is known regarding when and where Indigenous fire stewardship was utilized in the past. As wildfire seasons grow longer, fire behaviour is becoming more unpredictable, and as we strive to adapt to a changing climate, current fire management systems are becoming stressed. It is more important than ever to understand how Indigenous fire stewardship contributes to resilient forest and human communities, and to have multiple experiences and voices participating in solving wildfire issues.