|Prescribed Burn in High Park, Toronto, Canada|
Historically, in the area that is today the City of Toronto's High Park, "Indigenous groups maintained fires when hunting and clearing riparian areas. European settlers suppressed the fires from the 1870s to 2000 due to safety concerns as houses were built in closer proximity to the park." In recent years, prescribed burns have been reincorporated into the human-plant relationship in this park, opening up space for anthropological interrogations of these relationships.
Anthropologist Natasha Myers's current project with Ayelen Liberona, "Becoming Sensor in Sentient Worlds" explores the possibilities of decolonizing ecology in urban park sites like Toronto's High Park. They write
Fire is of course not just a “natural” force; people all over the world use fire to sculpt lands. Oak savannahs depend on people with knowledge of fire and the skills to care for the lands. Toronto’s remnant black oak savannahas, including those in High Park, are millennia in-the-making. These lands are the traditional territories of the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe Nations. Toronto stands on the lands of the Mississauga’s of the Credit River. Indigenous peoples cared for this land with fire for millennia before colonization. Many thousands of Indigenous and Métis peoples live and move through this region today.How do these examples of Indigenous ways of caring for the plant-people relationship suggest other ways for thinking about "nature" and "natural environments"? How might these examples contribute to or provoke classroom discussions about systemic inequality, epistemology, and decolonization?
Oak savannahs do not survive without people. After years of settlers’ grazing sheep and lawn mowers, Toronto’s Urban Forestry team have brought back the fires in an effort to save the oak savannahs. Here “nature” is valued more than the Indigenous cultures that gave this land its contours and significance. In this sense, restoration efforts participate in an ongoing colonial project that continues to enforce the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands. Can we do ecology otherwise?
Quick links and further reading:
- Appropriating Indigenous Knowledge: Biopiracy or Scientific Colonialism (14 March 2016, anthro everywhere!)
- Valuing Aboriginal cultural knowledge in Western science (2 June 2016, anthro everywhere!)
- Reviving food diversity through Indigenous knowledge (1 September 2016, anthro everywhere!)
- All About High Park’s Controlled Burns (2016)
- Becoming Sensor in Sentient Worlds project page
- High Park's Oak Savannahs
- Johnson, Jon. 2013. The Indigenous Environmental History of Toronto, “The Meeting Place”. In L. A. Sandberg, S. Bocking, & K. Cruikshank (Eds.), Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region (pp. 59–71). Ontario: Wilson Institute for Canadian History.
- Update 29 May 2017: A link to Myer's longer paper Becoming Sensor in Sentient Worlds: A More-than-natural History of a Black Oak Savannah via her academia.edu page