The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) has established a task force made up of elders and technicians to help stoke dialogue with the Ministry of Environment on how to better manage the response to wildfires in northern Saskatchewan.
'Had an immediate response and appropriate action taken place, the amount of land destroyed by these wildfires would not have been so immense.' -Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte
A number of First Nations communities have been affected by wildfires in the past.
Just last summer, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation — which includes the community of Pelican Narrows — was evacuated due to several wildfires that were burning within 10 kilometres of the community.
However, the task force is also examining how wildfires are managed when they aren't close to a community but the land is still at stake. It will consult with communities and elders to look at how fires are fought in the North and will conduct an independent review of Saskatchewan's wildfire management strategies.
"Had an immediate response and appropriate action taken place, the amount of land destroyed by these wildfires would not have been so immense," said Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte in a news release.
"As a result, the ability of our First Nations to sustain themselves has been lost for years to come since our First Nations people continue to rely on the land and animals for food and sustenance, as well as traditional medicines that support our overall health and well-being."
Government prioritizes communities over land
Steve Roberts, executive director of wildfire management for the province, says he recognizes the PAGC's demands. He says they've asked for a better response to all fires in the past.
"Because of how we set priorities, some of these fires that are farther away would get larger, and in some cases would be monitored rather than extinguished," Roberts said.
"(This is) so we can prioritize our resources around these high-value targets like communities, critical infrastructure and human life and safety."
Subsidy from government
After grass fires tore through southern Saskatchewan this past fall, farmers could receive compensation from the provincial disaster assistance program (PDAP).
According to Chief Peter Beatty of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, First Nations have not been compensated for the loss of family trap lines, as the current policy does not acknowledge trap lines. First Nations and their residents are eligible for PDAP assistance.
The task force's first meeting is set for Jan. 26.