After a devastating wildfire season last year, the Prince Albert Grand Council has made recommendations to improve wildfire responses in the North.
The Grand Council established a task force to address wildfires in northern Saskatchewan earlier this year; the group has now released their interim report. The task force was formed following a mandate from the Prince Albert Grand Council’s Legislative Assembly last fall. The group consists of local leaders, Elders, technicians and representatives of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
“Since we are among the first to face the direct consequences of the wildfires, it was necessary for us to identify and address areas for improvement,” PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said in a statement, noting the task force has made progress to address and implement much-needed changes.
PAGC Vice Chiefs Joseph Tsannie and Christopher Jobb echoed his sentiments. Tsannie also noted the impact wildfires have on food security in the north.
“The increasing rate of wildfires destroys caribou feeding grounds, which impact the ability of our hunters to access their main food for survival, especially in the Athabasca region where food prices are extremely high,” Tsannie said.
The task force report identified numerous areas where they say action is needed and listed various recommendations to help improve how wildfires are handled in northern Saskatchewan.
PAGC recommended increasing the number of members on fire crews from five to 10, and recommended reintroducing the remote camp model, which would allow for more boots on the ground to fight wildfires. The group is also calling for more training programs to enlist emergency crew leaders and for improvement on existing training programs for First Nation and northern community contract crews. They’d like to see more emergency firefighters and crew leaders hired as well.
“It is important to review the prices of hiring emergency fire personnel,” their report read. “During the height of northern forest fires in 2015, many First Nations members wanted to go firefighting but were not hired.”
Throughout the interim report, Elders questioned the practice of hiring southern residents to fight wildfires in northern Saskatchewan. They said it makes “logistical sense to hire local people … for both economic reasons, goodwill and cost-saving measures.”
To combat budget cuts to firefighting, the task force suggested mining companies, outfitters, loggers, forestry companies, and sport fishers should pay into a forestry protection fund.
The Grand Council is also calling for better engagement with Indigenous people around the impacts of climate change.
“Climate change exacerbates wildfires and the difficulties already faced by vulnerable First Nation communities, including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment,” the task force said in its report.
The interim report also touched on the impact wildfires have on Treaty rights and traditional lands. According to the task force, many hectares of traditional hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering lands have been destroyed by wildfires over the years.
Throughout the summer, the Ministry of Environment will continue to work with the PAGC Wildfire Task Force.
“The ministry has a long-standing positive working relationship with [PAGC], with partnerships in training and community protection projects,” Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said in a statement. “We look forward to building on those successes together.”
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