"Determined to Burn off the Entire Country": Prospectors, Caribou, and the Denesuliné in Northern Saskatchewan, 1900-1940


Author's Introduction, Page 335:

"If winter and summer in southern Saskatchewan are known for snow and dust respectively, in the north ice and fire are the harbingers of these very separate seasons. In fact, often shortly after the spring ice breakup, fires ravage a significant portion of northern Saskatchewan every summer. But even if so immediately destructive, at least outwardly, fire has always had a significant and meaningful place in the northern ecosystem. Recent studies of the historic effects of fire on the boreal forest suggest that, at least on average, fires burned any given area in the forest of the collective provincial north about once every sixty or seventy years, with some areas experiencing fire only once every two hundred years or more. The historic frequency and extent of fires in the boreal forest has shaped plant communities and, as a result, animal and human communities in the area as well. It was, and remains, a fire-dependant ecosystem. While modern (post-World War II) fire suppression efforts readily and actively acknowledge that fire is an integral part of the northern forest, concern over human safety, individual property, and forest resources, namely timber for pulp and lumber, has caused the province to aggressively combat, or at least carefully manage and monitor, many fires in the northern forest." (335).

Gulig draws connections between fire suppression efforts by settlers and the correlated increase of Forest Fires as a result of this intervention. During the first half of the 20th century, the growing number of forest fires interrupted Caribou migration paths, their grazing grounds had been burnt and were prevented from moving North. Denesuliné, who relied on the Caribou as an integral facet of northern life, did not see the Caribou return for numerous years after the burn. Their absence was an inevitable stressor and a devastating loss.


Publication Information

Gulig, Anthony. "Determined to Burn off the Entire Country": Prospectors, Caribou, and the Denesuliné in Northern Saskatchewan, 1900-1940." American Indian Quarterly 26, no. 3 (2002): 335-59.

Gulig, Anthony G.
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