By: Olivia Fang
Canada’s wildfire season is in full swing, and the consequences are devastating. Typically, the fires last from May to August, peaking in July (NESDIS). However, this year, partly due to climate change, the fires have been much more intense, burning over 47,000 square miles of forest land, and forcing over 25,000 Indigenous citizens to evacuate their homes.
Most of Canada’s Indigenous population lives near forests, relying on the greenery for food and other means of survival. When wildfires ravage their area, they are left without food and other resources (AP News). These communities are often “sparsely populated” in remote areas, making them less of a priority for firefighters (New York Times). The wildfires have created massive amounts of smoke, heavily impacting the health of evacuees. 79-year-old William Wapachee was taken to a hospital because he had trouble breathing due to the smoke.
“I’ve never seen that level of evacuation in Cree Nation, simultaneous communities all at once. Never has that happened before,” says Mandy Gull-Masty, the grand chief of the Cree Nation, a North American Indigenous tribe (New York Times). During an interview, Gull-Masty criticized the Canadian government for showing little concern for the lives of the Indigenous people. Since many Indigenous communities are spread far out in the north, the government has a policy of non-interference unless they threaten larger structures due to “limited resources” (New York Times). In the interview, Gull-Masty states, “Our territory doesn’t have a super high population, and we don’t have a lot of infrastructure that needs to be protected. But for us, our territory is our infrastructure.”
Due to the frequency of the fires, many areas have been forced to evacuate multiple times. It appears as though the fires will never end, with fire chief Kurtis Black saying that the fires will “stay until fall gets here — or the snow” (New York Times). As Gull-Masty tells the New York Times, “We are basically refugees of climate in this territory. We are constantly escaping either risk of fire or impact of smoke in the community.”
- Wildfires Are Displacing Canada’s Indigenous Communities - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Wildfires Rage in Western Canada | NESDIS (noaa.gov)
- Canadian wildfires hit Indigenous communities hard, threatening their land and culture | AP News