How indigenous fire shaped the boundary waters

Clare Boerigter, an environmental storyteller, is excited to share her recent story on the CfAS-funded People, Fire and Pines Project. In this piece, Boerigter explores the false-yet-still-dominant narrative of the Boundary Waters as a wilderness “untrammeled by man,” drawing on the work and knowledge of a range of Ojibwe and non-Ojibwe experts to understand the influence of the Anishinaabeg on the forests of the Boundary Waters. 

The relationship between the Anishinaabeg and fire is a central part of this story. As Damon Panek says in a recent episode of the podcast [Un]Natural Selection, “The Boundary Waters wouldn’t be what it is without [human-lit] fire on the landscape.”

Today, however, the fires historically lit by the Anishinaabeg have been removed from the Boundary Waters. When lightning fires do occur on this landscape (as they did during the summer of 2021), state and federal agencies work hard to suppress them. Ecologically, spiritually and relationally, this absence of fire has been felt across the forests of the Boundary Waters.

The story investigates several questions: Are there ways to live with fire, instead of suppressing it? In what ways, by attempting to live without fire, have we harmfully impacted both land and people? And what can the Boundary Waters – a wilderness frequently defined as free of human influence – teach us about the relationships between people and fire?

To explore these questions, check out “People, Fire and Pines”!

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