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Medicine stories: Fire medicine, a vital energy

Earth medicine and the anthropocene

I’ve been observing burn sites along the highways for weeks. Each region is different, each burn site, each valley or corridor.

I have so many questions. So many possible answers. Nothing ever for sure. But I can’t stop seeking, wondering and asking.

I have learned so much over the last year, so much that gives me hope, so much heartache and devastation. I’ve been a climate refugee and evacuated from fires many of us predicted in the months prior. What the future holds, we cannot know, but I do know that with each site I visit I have more questions. From the plants growing up underneath to the fire burning deep underfoot, dormant and dangerous.

As a refugee flowing through the displacement and exhaustion of being away from home, trays of food are generously provided by the Village of Liidlii Kue, prepared by Denise Martineau, a local Elder referred to as “Gomo” by many locals, meaning “mother.”

What does it mean to be placed in states of shock and fear by fire, but more so, by governing policies, and non-Indigenous ways of handling national resources and land-care?

On this journey of understanding fire as medicine, I have learned many things. I have learned that fire is transformation, a part of alchemy that embraces the burning away, the process of calcification.

I have learned to see fire as energy — working with the fire within, and allowing fire to transform my processes in life, allowing energy to move, to break down into pure forms, the natural debris of life.

I have learned to see fire as emotion, and that suppressing emotion is akin to ill health — embodying that embracing of and acknowledging of my emotions, however raw, and building a stage for a much longer journey towards healing and mental health.

I have learned to see facing fire as we humans are learning to face our shame, our fear, our negative self-talk.

And just like learning to mitigate a panic attack, anxiety, shame, grief, rage, or love even, that in the deep work of learning what it is to regulate our emotions, so too can we learn to regulate the way we utilize, work with and understand the events of life, like fire.

Fire, I have learned, is the Earth-body asking to be heard, to be cleansed, to be felt, seen, understood.

And instead of fighting fire, or fighting fire with fire, we are learning to work with a cool flame.

Fire as a preventative measure is meeting the Earth where it is asking to be met, stabilizing Earth’s systems. Fire is not necessarily destructive, but also helps berries regenerate quickly, and the rat-root grow strong once again.

While out driving along the highway, I observe patches of burned trees — some burned to the ground, others half-scorched.

I learned that we used to use fire for production — to create timber for building, fuel for burning, to impact the health of the land, the local plant and animal life, the waterways and air by indirect measure.

To align with Earth processes is to see and acknowledge the complexity of Mother Earth, the divine’s strange and wondrous plan, but also processes of our own human Earth bodies, hearts, and interactions. I believe this is a time to open, without fear, to new pathways of intelligence through the lenses of our ancestral wisdoms.

Fire is our medicine. Fire is medicine. The same word used for fire, K’o, is used for home, life force, energy, spirit. We are fire people. And we used fire to nourish and shape the land. We worked with fire to create meadows for food security and medicines, to tend shorelines and care for muskrat, ducks, geese.

My great, great auntie was a firekeeper, my uncle Walter Blondin, reminds me. He is a Shuta’otine Dene Elder living in Liidlii Kue, Nahendeh, or Fort Simpson, NWT, and my great, great aunt Catherine is his late mother. She asked him, on the eve of her death, to lay her beside their cabin, along with kindling, and flint — and to let her light the morning fire one last time. This is how dear fire was to her, the relation between the spark of heat, and life, and experiencing that precious gift in our human hands.

“We use the same word for fire as we do for home” he reminds me, “and the same word we use for spirit, for inner-life, for energy: K’o.”

While the fires raged all across the nation this past summer, and still do, we must be careful not to let ourselves be overtaken by fear and to hear the colonizers’ views of the fire — to assume the simplistic mindset of ‘this is fire’ and ‘fire is bad,’ but to remember that there are far deeper sciences at play.

And as Bill Erasmus reminds me, “Burning is our treaty right.”

May we be brave enough to carry this flame.