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Indigenous firefighter training teaches traditional Native practices in woodlands management

Crew boss at Oct. 16, 2021 cultural burn near Eugene.
Brian Bull
A crew boss directs trainees in a controlled (cultural) burn in the first Indigenous training event outside Eugene on Oct. 16, 2021.

Beginning Monday outside Chiloquin, 20 trainees will learn the role of fire in managing the landscape.

The week-long training mirrors a similar program held outside Eugene last fall. Multiple agencies including the Long Tom Watershed Council and Native American tribes from across Oregon – are helping stage the burn, which will be on two acres of private land.

Derek Kimbol with drip torch.
Brian Bull
With drip torch in hand, Klamath tribal member Derek Kimbol begins a line of fire on the Andrew Reasoner Wildlife Preserve on Oct. 16, 2021.

Derek Kimbol is a Klamath tribal member who participated in last year’s training, and is helping coordinate this week’s program. He's with a non-profit group called Maqlaqs Gee’tkni, meaning “Place of the People.”

“Our goals are to provide forest resiliency and to diminish wildfires, so the forest is healthy and it won’t catch into a big mega-fire,” Kimbol told KLCC.

Thousands of years before colonization, Indigenous people did controlled burns to rejuvenate habitat and reduce fuel buildup.

Kimbol said he’s heartened that after a century of fire suppression, non-tribal governments are becoming more open to what many Native people call “cultural burns”, patterned after the practices of their ancestors.

The trainees come from a number of tribes from the region and beyond. Kimbol said this latest round include people from the Klamath, Ute, and Lakota nations. And support is being provided by representatives of the Burns Paiute, Modoc, and Siletz Tribes, as well as the Oregon Dept. of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service.

“Our goal is to have the capacity to carry out more prescribed fires,” said Kimbol, adding that after the week, all successful trainees will have FFT-2 certification to become firefighters.

Cultural (prescribed) burn training, Oct. 16, 2021

“They’ll be able to go back to their tribe and help educate and build the capacity of their own tribes, and then work together intertribally.”

The ultimate goal is to give the trainees their FFT-2 training to become firefighters, who’ll return to their tribes and help implement fire practices to help control and offset larger incidents.

Copyright @2022, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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