Settler Fire Management: An Examination of Wildfire Policy, Settler-Indigenous Relations, and Research Ethics in Northern Saskatchewan

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How does wildfire management and science function as a tool of colonial dispossession and/or Indigenous resurgence?

Project Description

Over the last several decades, wildfire management in Northern Canada has become an important, controversial issue. The severity of wildfires has increased throughout Boreal Forest regions of Saskatchewan (SK), due to a combination of climate change, historical wildfire management regimes, and contemporary practices. In Northern SK, wildfires directly impact the lives of the region’s primarily Indigenous (Dene, Métis, Rocky Cree, Swampy Cree, and Woodland Cree) residents, through moves that take them from their land– what settler colonial and Indigenous Studies theorists refer to as colonial dispossession. This research is a ethical and methodological commitment to answering the questions provided by Northern Saskatchewan residents. These questions include:

Wildfire Smoke in Prince Albert, SK


1) What is the history of evacuation practices in Northern Saskatchewan? What alternatives to evacuation exist in other fire effected areas?
2) What is the history of the Province’s unofficial ‘Let it Burn’ policy, wherein fires are allowed to burn until they are near communities? How does this relate to scientific knowledge about fires? How were Northerners considered or consulted in the process?
3) How has the Provincial government justified the replacement of Indigenous workers with webcams or non-Northern fire fighters? When and why were these programs (i.e. Northern fire-spotters and volunteer fire fighters) implemented and refuted?

Wildfire T-Shirt at Lac La Ronge, SK

The aims of this research are to: provide Northern Saskatchewan community groups and lobbying organizations answers to these questions in formats and in language that is useful to them; to better understand and develop methods and methodologies to conduct ethical research for Northern communities impacted by contamination issues; and to be able to articulate the role of wildfire management in configuring settler-Indigenous relationships in my home community in Northern Saskatchewan.




Alexander Zahara, is a PhD Candidate (Geography) at Memorial University and cross-disciplinary researcher, whose work examines the intersections of pollution and colonialism in Northern Canada. Alex is interested in action-oriented research, and his current research project is an ethical and methodological commitment to answering research questions produced by Indigenous Northerners. Alex is also a member of Civic Lab for Environmental Action Research, a feminist and anti-colonial marine science lab that examines plastic pollution, and the founder of MUN’s Queer Science Reading Group. His work has been published in journals like Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (2015), Environmental Humanities (2015), and the edited collection Anthropocene Feminism (2017). He received a Master’s of Environmental Studies from Queen’s University in 2015 and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Saskatchewan in 2012. Follow Alex on twitter @AlexZahara35