How the West Coast Wildfires and Other Natural Disasters Impact Native Americans

Before the genocide of Indigenous peoples, Native American tribes held annual controlled burns in order to clear out underbrush and commence new plant growth. When colonizers arrived and subjected Indigenous people to horrific violence with the intention of wiping out the communities, they removed tribes from their land and banned religious ceremonies. The cultural burnings almost completely disappeared.

Fire suppression has only made California and Oregon’s risk of wildfires even worse, on top of the growing impacts of climate change. The lack of regular burns has caused the landscape to grow thick with dry vegetation that is constantly igniting fires, largely destroying communities. 

The vulnerability of Indigenous communities to climate change is determined by their cultural, social, and economic dependence on the ecosystems around them, as well as their position in political contexts of colonialism, systemic racism, and forced relocation. Their susceptibility to such dangers is a result of systems of inequality. The dangers that the Indigenous communities face regarding climate change cannot be removed from the context of colonialism.

During a global pandemic that specifically impacts the respiratory system, wildfires that are adding more smoke into the atmosphere are seriously endangering Indigenous people on reservations who do not have the same access to health care as the rest of the population. In addition, Indigenous communities face economic threats since timber is a source of revenue. Destroyed timber as a result of wildfires means less funding for tribal programs such as elder and youth services.

We at SWeekly would like to acknowledge that we are gathered here today on the land of Native Americans, as a result of the genocide of Indigenous peoples. For more than five centuries, Native communities have been faced with violent efforts to strip them of their land, culture, and families. We honor those who have died, and those who are still surviving and fighting today. Indigenous groups are even now being degraded of their land and rights by corporate greed and federal policy. All donations from this article will be going directly back to Native communities. 

-Carmen Ya’ira
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Sources:
Climate Change For Indigenous Peoples. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2020, from https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/climate-change.html 

Sommer, Lauren. “To Manage Wildfire, California Looks To What Tribes Have Known All Along.” NPR, NPR, 24 Aug. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/08/24/899422710/to-manage-wildfire-california-looks-to-what-tribes-have-known-all-along.

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