Voices from the fire line: Pikangikum Anishinaabeg experiences as provincial forest firefighters in northwestern Ontario

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Sanders, Michael R.
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This research is an account of Pikangikum Anishinaabeg experiences as provincial forest firefighters in the Red Lake region of Ontario. It illustrates historic and contemporary community roles in firefighting in light of institutional changes that have affected their level of involvement. It describes relationships between Pikangikum Anishinaabeg and Euro-Canadian people within the institution of fire control and details how these relationships have developed and changed since the early years of forest firefighting up to recent times. This story emerged through individual and collaborative analysis of documentary sources and empirical data from interview and participant observation settings. It finds that Pikangikum people excelled within the fire program at Red Lake from the 1930s to the 1970s by combining their pre-existing land-based knowledge with the hands-on training of Ontario Fire Branch representatives. This study also documents a period of decline in Pikangikum people’s presence on seasonal fire crews that began in the mid 1970s as Ontario adopted an increasingly standardized, technocratic approach to firefighting. It concludes by forwarding recommendations and highlighting recent developments which may hold the potential to reinvigorate Pikangikum representation on seasonal fire crews.
Pikangikum, Ojibwa, Ontario, Forestry, Firefighting, Ethnography, History, Anthropology