New wildfire report says more supports needed for remote Indigenous communities

An image of fire personnel posted on Twitter by the BC Wildfire Service in 2017. BC Wildfire Service

A B.C. First Nation whose members refused to leave when its territory was encircled by wildfires is calling for an Indigenous-led emergency response centre and recognition of Aboriginal Peoples’ inherent jurisdiction in emergency response and recovery.

The Tsilhqot’in National Government issued 33 recommendations as part of its report on the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season Wednesday in Vancouver alongside provincial and federal representatives.

WATCH: (Aired Sept. 11, 2018) More money available to B.C. First Nations for wildfire prevention measures

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BC Wildfires: More money available for prevention measures – Sep 11, 2018

Chief Joe Alphonse has been a vocal critic of the wildfire response by the federal and provincial governments, saying their failure to recognize Indigenous knowledge and firefighting skills posed a greater threat to the First Nation than the fires themselves.

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He told a crowd at the University of British Columbia that the six communities that comprise the Tsilhqot’in have lived in fire country for time immemorial but lack some basic infrastructure and resources that would better equip them to protect themselves.

READ MORE: B.C. First Nation communities fight desperately to save their homes from wildfire

The report, called The Fires Awakened Us, does not propose a specific budget for implementing its recommendations, which also includes more fire halls, geotechnical work to stabilize banks and a one-stop reimbursement process for First Nations.

B.C.’s minister of forests, Doug Donaldson, says the government has begun acting on feedback it received from the First Nation, as well as 108 recommendations made in an independent report last May to overhaul disaster response practices after the 2017 wildfire and flood seasons.

Last year, the Tsilhqot’in Nation signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with the federal and British Columbia governments that recognizes the First Nation as a full partner in wildfire response.

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