Decolonising Fire: Indigenous Land Stewardship and Climate Futurity

Read the transcript

This webinar is the fifth in the Australian Centre's 2023 Critical Public Conversations series: Country, Climate, Colonialism.

In August 2021, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth assessment report which unequivocally identified climate change as a human induced process. Indigenous peoples compromise less than 5% of the world’s population yet we protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity in the forests, deserts, grasslands, and marine environments in which we have lived for centuries. Climate change has been identified as a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires in the Western United States. Wildfire in California can be traced to roots of colonialism through the establishment and persistence of “no burn” policies. Agencies have recognised the detrimental effects of fire suppression on ecosystems, and scholars have emphasised the need for climate adaptation partnerships with Indigenous communities. However, we are asking the same agencies that created the problem to be responsible for the solution. This talk will centralise the significance of working with Indigenous fire practitioners and cultural bearers to reclaim cultural practices in Northern California, and now in the Midwest area of the United States. These demonstrations edify decolonial approaches to fire practices, land care, and Indigenous ecological intelligence towards our collective climate futurity.

I´╗┐mage credit: Alysha Beck/UC Davis


Dr Melinda M. AdamsPh.D. is an Indigenous woman, scientist, and cultural fire practitioner. She belongs to the N’dee San Carlos Apache Tribe and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science and Indigenous Studies at The University of Kansas. As a fire scholar, Dr. Adams concentrates on encouraging public participation in prescribed and controlled burns, getting more people fire certified, and placing more Indigenous-led cultural fire to the ground with allies, agencies, and Tribal members: “Decolonising fire” as she describes.

Dr. Adams holds her Bachelor of Science from Haskell Indian Nations University (one of thirty-seven tribal colleges located across the United States), her Master of Science from Purdue University, and PhD from the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on the revitalisation of cultural fire with Tribes at the intersection of ecology, environmental science, environmental policy, and Native American Studies. Broader implications of this research include deploying cultural fire as a climate adaptation strategy while mitigating the frequency and intensity of catastrophic wildfire.

The presenters have granted permission for this recording to be used for personal viewing and educational purposes.