Human Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 401–414 | Cite as

Fire, Agency and Scale in the Creation of Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes

  • Andrew Martin MillerEmail author
  • Iain Davidson-Hunt


Much recent literature explores controlled burning practices used by people of different cultures to manipulate landscapes. Because humans have only recently been able to suppress fires occurring at larger scales these studies focus on activities occurring at the scale of sites as making the greatest contribution to creating cultural landscapes. In this study we examine the role of fire in the construction of Anishinaabe cultural landscapes in the boreal forest of northwestern Ontario. Through our work with elders of Pikangikum First Nation we examined Anishinaabe knowledge and relationships to fire occurring across spatial and temporal scales. Pikangikum residents perceive forest fires as beings which possesses agency and who intentionally create order in landscapes. This notion suggests that cultural landscapes are more than the physical remains of the sum of human activities. The possibility of non-human agents having a role in the creation of meaningful spaces prompts us to call for a reassessment both of the scale of inquiry and the nature of cultural landscapes. We conclude with a discussion of the benefits and potential constraints to inclusion of indigenous cultural landscapes in current co-management arrangements.


Anishinaabe Pikangikum First Nation Traditional burning Cultural landscape Agency Scale 



Funding for this project was provided by Sustainable Forest Management Network (Davidson-Hunt, PI), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Davidson-Hunt, PI), a grant from Environment Canada, Aboriginal Capacity Building Fund 2006–2007 (Whitefeather Forest Management Corp.) and a University of Manitoba Graduate Fellowship (Miller). The authors owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Pikangikum. Among them elders Oliver Hill, Whitehead Moose, Norman Quill, Tom Quill, George B. Strang, Mathew Strang, and Solomon Turtle stand out for their participation in field trips and numerous interviews. Members of the Whitefeather Forest Management Corporation, Marcella Keejik, Charlie Pascal, Paddy Peters, Reggie Peters, and Murray Quill provided translations and technical assistance. Meegwich. We also wish to thank two anonymous reviews for their constructive comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

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