Cultural Fire: Native Land Management and Regeneration


EcoJustice RadioIn this EcoJustice Radio episode we talk about cultural fire with Elizabeth Azzuz from the Cultural Fire Management Council, traditional Native methods of prescribed burning to protect forests and heal degraded ecosystems.

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Elizabeth Azzuz by Kiliii Yuyan

Elizabeth Azzuz, cultural fire practitioner. Photo by Kiliii Yuyan.

Fire as Medicine for the Land

Native peoples have used the tool of fire as medicine. Fire was understood to be a spirit, a healer and sacred in its own right. Traditional Native controlled burning, called cultural fire, utilizes ancient agro-forestry practices, technology developed through time by the Karuk tribe and Indigenous Peoples around the world.

Tune in to hear Elizabeth Azzuz, Secretary of Cultural Fire Management Council, discuss her work using Traditional Native Karuk methods of prescribed burning to protect forests, heal degraded ecosystems, and reestablish forest-grown food, medicine, and products.

STORY: Dam-Free: Indigenous Peoples Reclaim the Klamath River

In the early 1900s, colonial settlers began the history of fire suppression that essentially still exists in California. Native peoples were prevented from burning even in a controlled way; some were shot and killed for engaging in this highly beneficial cultural practice. Later, the U.S. Forest Service adopted fire suppression as their gold standard. California state policy currently mandates stopping fires as soon as they ignite, which has led to dense forests that could easily erupt into major fires, especially if exacerbated by brush and dry “fuels.” Many people aren’t aware that the pristine landscapes of California have been consciously culled and cleared by Native hands for thousands of years. Many of these places are the result of sacred reciprocity, intention, and stewardship.

With global climate heating turning the West Coast of the US into an arid tinderbox, 2020 has been another year of the megafire. Thus, the cultural fire practice of Elizabeth Azzuz on the North Coast of California sets an important example on how to protect and regenerate forests for the people and wildlife who call them home using traditional ecological knowledge.

When our work is successful, life will be thriving with deer, birds, mushrooms, open prairies, grasslands and clear creeks.   ~   There is laughing. Kids are playing all over.   ~   All of the brush is gone and we can see the river. The land all the way down the road has been burned. It is like the pre-contact landscape, and we are able to truly live off the land.   ~   We get that humble and respectful feeling. Our prayers with our ancestors are heard because our connection with the land is growing stronger and stronger. These prayers are carried by the smoke, and answered by the fire.   ~   People are leading and the agencies support it.   ~   A little ways back and a long ways out, we have the knowledge to make rain.  — Indigenous Peoples Burning Network (IPBN)

Elizabeth Azzuz is a cultural fire practitioner. She gathers and propagates traditional food and medicinal plants. Of Yurok and Karuk descent, she comes from and lives in her traditional territory where the Trinity River flows into the Klamath on the North Coast of California. Elizabeth is a mother and grandmother; at the age of 4 she learned about burning from her grandfather.


Indigenous PeoplesBurning Network (IPBN) with Margo Robbins:

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Cultural Fire - Elizabeth Azzuz - EcoJustice Radio

Interview by Carry Kim
Intro by Jessica Aldridge
Engineer: Blake Lampkin
Executive Producer: Jack Eidt
Show Created by Mark and JP Morris
Music: Javier Kadry
Episode 83
Photo courtesy Kiliii Yuyan

Updated 25 January 2021


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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist and designer, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Partners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt