What Apache Firefighters can tell us about fire: A case study on fire policy, labor, and Southwest Native people from 1965-1990
Project Site Description:
In 1988, millions of acres burned in the Midwest. Some note this as the biggest fire since 1921. The Boise Interagency Fire Center (BIFC) worked with several agencies to dispatch 30,000 firefighters to control the area’s biggest fire. Two important agencies where the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many of these firefighters where Native American. While overlooked in most accounts of fire reports, fire policy, or fire management, the Apache Firefighters offer a window to examine the relationship between fire (like wildfires, fire policy, fire management) and labor (funding channels and nation relations).
The goal of my research project is to analyze the relationship of the Apache Firefighters to both fire and the United States’ fire policy leading up to the massive Yellowstone fires of 1988. On one hand, the Fort Apache Reservation has centuries of experience working with natural wildfire, although they now practice a form of U.S. fire policy. In fact, Stephen Pyne notes that “Arizona reservations were, for a couple of decades, the premier practitioners of prescribed fire” (21). On the other hand, the 1988 Yellowstone fires reignited intense national debates about returning to “Indian ways” of whether or not to allow forests to burn. A few questions I want to explore are: what made Arizona Reservations the premier practitioners of fire burning and what changed?; How did the U.S. Department of Labor influence Apache fire burning practices?; What experiences do Apache Firefighters have on versus off the reservation along lines of labor, gender, and class?; and, What, if any, are the differences between U.S. fire policy, and Fort Apache fire policy?
Esperanza Santos is a graduate student in the American Studies department at Rutgers Newark. Her focus is on Decolonial thought and transgender studies. She writes from the perspective of someone who was born and raised in San Diego, California. She is familiar with the relevance of fires; First, by witnessing San Diego’s Cedar Fire in 2003, and later, by evacuating because of Santa Rosa’s Tubbs Fire in 2017. While she was safe both times, she endeavors to analyze how others are systematically put in harm’s way.