Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of California / Davis
“Storytelling through Fire: (Re)vitalizing Traditional Burning as Climate Action and Land Stewardship in California"

Indigenous peoples and the roles they play in combating climate change is rarely considered in climate change public discourse (Maldanado et al 2014). Climate change itself is thoroughly tied to colonial practices, both historically and in the present, as anthropogenic activities have hinged on the dispossession of Indigenous land and resources (Whyte 2016). Since time immemorial, many Native American tribes have always conducted cultural fires, as a spiritual and ecological approach to tending and caring for our lands (Kimmerer and Lake 2001). These low temperature burns not only improve the ecosystem, they provide socio-cultural medicine which strengthens the intergenerational bonds between tribal members (Aldern and Goode 2014). In California, the Patwin peoples have had recent success in revitalizing cultural fire (Adlam et al. 2020). The goal of my dissertation is to contextualize the revitalization and socio-ecological importance of culture fire with Indigenous sovereign nations in Northern California. My proposed research site, the Tending and Gathering Garden (situated on unceded Patwin territory) presents opportunities to foster cultural revitalization, engage in hands-on experiential learning and facilitate knowledge transmission through multiple generations. It is imperative I conduct this research on-site with the Patwin peoples of California, a sovereign Indigenous nation operating within the borders of the United States. This work weaves together Ecology and Environmental Humanities and is grounded in Native American and Indigenous (NAIS) methodologies. By applying diverse theoretical frameworks and approaches, I address critical questions on environmental stewardship, socio-ecological healing and climate discourse by employing oral histories, storywork, embodied knowledges and memory recall (Smith 2012; Archibald 2008). The cross-cultural collaborations demonstrated in my work will provide opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous land stewardship, can inform cultural fire policy at the local-state-federal level and can lay the groundwork for Indigenous peoples to reclaim ancestral lands.