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Indigenous-led prescribed burn with cultural significance in Kelowna, B.C.

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Prescribed burn with cultural significance in Kelowna
WATCH: If you see smoke coming from the Gallaghers canyon area, don't be alarmed. Westbank First Nation is conducting a prescribed burn in the area this week and as Jasmine King explains, they're doing more than clearing up potential wildfire fuel – Apr 5, 2023

If you see smoke coming from the Gallaghers Canyon area, don’t be alarmed.

Westbank First Nation (WFN) is conducting a prescribed burn in the area this week and they’re doing more than clearing up potential wildfire fuel.

WFN members are carefully setting fire to grasslands east of Kelowna, B.C., which they say is in critical need of a burn.

“Fire’s been taken out of the ecosystem for way too long. Natural grasslands are sort of overgrown with weeds and grass from actual trees, which it’s not healthy for a natural grassland,” said Ntityix Development Corporation CEO Mic Werstuik.

WFN in partnership with BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is setting this land ablaze, a tradition dating back to when Indigenous firekeepers used to perform the same task.

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“The fire is really good to replenish. When we practice the burn there’s a good opportunity for animals to have and us to have nutritious foods,” said Syilx knowledge keeper Spaxwawlm Krystal Lezard.

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WFN is planning to burn 18 hectares throughout the next couple of days, a practice they haven’t done in a few years.

“It used to happen every year but for years and years and years, the use of fire was taken out of our toolkit as Sylix people because of the fear of fire getting away, but we’ve utilized fire as a tool for thousands of years,” Werstuik said.

The cultural burn teaches young Indigenous people the generational traditions, while they provide rejuvenated land to animals and clear away any debris.

“The things that we’re doing is taking fuel that’s built up over years and burning it off, so when the fire does come through, it’s just gonna be like this, a grass fire,” said Werstuik.

The burn creates collaboration between WFN and BCWS, however, some say they would’ve liked to see it happen earlier.

“I know it took a lot to plan this and get everybody together, but these conversations and this work has been long overdue for our people because we’ve wanted to do this forever,” Lezard said.

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The burning should be completed by the end of the week.

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