Junction of Highway 106 and 135 in September. Photo courtesy of Saskatchewan Department of Highways.

The member nations of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations agree the province’s policy to manage forest fires rather than suppress needs to be re-examined.

The FSIN assembly voted unanimously in Saskatoon on Wednesday to call for the province to review its forest fire policy.

The resolution was put forward by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty. He says the policy to manage rather than suppress leads to the loss of traditional First Nation territory.

“We are the stewards of the land, we take care of our lands because if we don’t we lose the resources…the medicines, the animals, the birds,” said Chief Beatty to the FSIN assembly.

This past summer approximately 2,500 people were evacuated from the PBCN community of Pelican Narrows due to wildfires. Chief Beatty believes if the policies were different the province would have suppressed the fire before it became a threat to the community.

“I know they don’t outright call it the let it burn policy,” said Beatty. “In practice that’s what it is…that’s exactly what it is.”

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson says they had the same concerns with the fires near La Ronge in 2015.

“We were reassured the policies would be reviewed, but apparently they weren’t reviewed because PBCN had the exact same issues we had,” she said. “We are asking for the government to review their policies and work with us.”

The Ministry of Environment says they assess every wildfire, no matter where it is, and make decisions about how best to manage it. They say fires threatening communities receive the highest priority.

The ministry also says they review policies and procedures following each wildfire season. The review for this most recent season is currently underway.