Tribes Object to Fighting Fire in Sacred Places

August 14, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: MSNBC

Wire Service: AP

Indian tribes from the Klamath River canyon are worried that the U.S. Forest Service is violating some of their sacred lands by fighting a remote wilderness wildfire rather than letting it burn naturally.

The area is home to many prayer seats or vision quest sites shared by three tribes, where tribal members have fasted, prayed and sought spiritual guidance for thousands of years. The area is also used to gather grasses for baskets and Port Orford cedar for ceremonial buildings, such as sweat lodges.

"Talking with Forest Service firefighters, I have been saying this is the Sistine Chapel, the Mount Sinai, the Vatican," for the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa tribes, Chris Peters, the Yurok tribe's liaison with the Forest Service, said from Arcata, Calif.

The tribes especially object to the practice of deliberately setting smaller fires with drip torches to try to contain the larger blazes.

'Drip torch' not welcome

"If fire should move in naturally, we're comfortable with that," Peters said. "But if you bring a drip torch into the Vatican and intend to ignite it, you are going to have some opposition."

Two fires have been burning for weeks through uninhabited forests and steep canyons in the Siskiyou Wilderness on the Six Rivers National Forest between the Klamath River and the Oregon border.