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What the Blazes!? A People's History of Fire in Labrador

Erica Oberndorfer1*

1Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada.
*Corresponding author

Journal of the North Atlantic, No. 40 (2020)

Contemporary fire literature describes past and present fires in Labrador forests as part of a natural and recurrent disturbance regime, with lightning the primary ignition source in an uninhabited wilderness. However, earlier European observers attributed a much larger role to humans in the fire history of a peopled region. According to their historical written accounts, Indigenous peoples and visitors deliberately used fire to manage plant and animal communities, improve soil fertility, and for signalling. These accounts also frequently mention extensive wildfires accidentally set by the observers themselves. Today, Labrador’s peoples continue to work with fire in land management, food preservation, and cultural activities. This review considers how relationships with fire in Labrador, both historical and contemporary, interact with lighting-ignited fires to shape ecological patterns in boreal biota; and posits that understanding cultural contributions to fire histories is critical not only in revising unhelpful narratives about an unpeopled Labrador wilderness, but in navigating the future coexistence of fire and people in a boreal zone that is experiencing climate-driven increases in fire frequency and severity.

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2020 Journal of the North Atlantic 40:1–16 E. Oberndorfer What the Blazes!? A People’s History of Fire in Labrador Erica Oberndorfer1* Abstract - Contemporary fire literature describes past and present fires in Labrador forests as part of a natural and recurrent disturbance regime, with lightning the primary ignition source in an uninhabited wilderness. However, earlier European ob- servers attributed a much larger role to humans in the fire history of a peopled region. According to their historical written accounts, Indigenous peoples and visitors deliberately used fire to manage plant and animal communities, improve soil fertility, and for signalling. These accounts also frequently mention extensive wildfires accidentally set by the observers themselves. Today, Labrador’s peoples continue to work with fire in land management, food preservation, and cultural activities. This review considers how relationships with fire in Labrador, both historical and contemporary, interact with lighting-ignited fires to shape ecological patterns in boreal biota; and posits that understanding cultural contributions to fire histories is critical not only in revising unhelpful narratives about an unpeopled Labrador wilderness, but in navigating the future coexistence of fire and people in a boreal zone that is experiencing climate-driven increases in fire frequency and severity. Introduction There’s nothing like an evacuation order to remind you that you’re living in an active fire system. In the latter part of June 2012—two weeks after I moved to Goose Bay, in Labrador (Canada)—a wildfire forced the evacuation of 1,800 residents from the neighbouring communities of Sheshatshiu and North West River (Fig. 1), the latter being the home of my in-laws. The approaching fire was one of 87 reported forest fires in Labrador that year, which cumulatively burned 223,746 ha in the most active fire season in a decade (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador 2012, 2017). With my family out of town, I hurriedly packed whatever I could from their house and joined the stream of vehicles evacuating through the smoke towards Goose Bay. Fortunately, favourable weather and firefighting efforts eventually turned the fire away from the area, allowing relieved residents to return to undamaged homes. The cause of the fire was deter- mined to be lightning, which sparked 62 of the 87 re- ported forest fires in Labrador that year (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador 2012). Naturally-occurring fires are a critical part of ecosystem dynamics in the boreal forest (Wein and MacLean 1983), where periodic fires cycle soil nutrients and release fire-adapted species; how- ever, fires are becoming larger and more frequent in fire-prone regions of Canada, and these changes have been conclusively linked to the effects of anthropogenic climate change (Gillett et al. 2004). Climatic impacts on the boreal fire cycle are further compounded by the interactive effects of accelerat- ing industrialization, habitat fragmentation, and increased opportunities for human-caused ignition at the urban/forest interface (Achard et al. 2008, Calef et al. 2008, Robinne et al. 2016). Not all human relationships with fire are the inci- dental by-products of climate and habitat changes, or acts of arson. As in other regions around the world, human relationships with fire in the boreal forests of Labrador are multi-faceted and have deep roots. Lab- rador has been inhabited for over 9,000 years (Rankin 2013) and the descendants of these original peoples are today represented in Labrador by Innu Nation (First Nations), Nunatsiavut Government (Inuit), and NunatuKavut Community Council (Southern Inuit). Historical accounts of Indigenous cultural fire knowl- edge and practices in Labrador are relayed through the eyes of European visitors in their journals, and in- clude accounts of producing and carrying fire, luring salmon with birchbark torches during night spearfish- ing, fire tools in burial practices, fire as it relates to ceremonies, and the importance of campfires for cooking, heat, storytelling, and visiting (Hind 1863). Many of these practices remain vital today. Though fire management was once widely presumed to be uncommon in northern forests (Speck 1997), other sources clearly document widespread Indigenous fire management practices in boreal regions (Lewis and Ferguson 1988, Miller and Davidson-Hunt 2010). The scale at which fire was used as a management tool for shaping landscapes in Labrador is not known, but historical accounts (Tanner 1944) and living oral histories (V. Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initiative, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.) provide insight that fire played a role in Indigenous landscape management. In much more recent times, European traders and travelers also demonstrated fledgling relationships with fire in a region new to them, often experiencing the effects of fires they started and could not control. European observers were infrequently traveling with the specific aim of observing fire re- 1Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. *Corresponding author: P.O Box 473 Station C, Goose Bay NL, A0P1C0; 1 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer Figure 1. Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, highlighting select Labrador communities. Adapted from Natural Resources Canada Reference Map of Newfoundland and Labrador (2002). 2 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer gimes, but in periodically making very hasty retreats from the blazes they themselves ignited, they were well-placed to observe the far-reaching effects of human-ignited fires on landscapes (Hind 1863). Despite these varied relationships with fire— intentional and accidental, widespread and local- ized, Indigenous and non-Indigenous—described in historical texts, as well as the living practice of fire knowledge in present-day Labrador, humans are notably absent from more contemporary regional fire literature. For example, a historical overview of fire in Labrador makes no mention of people (Foster 1983). Labrador’s forests are described as “uninhab- ited wilderness where natural forces govern ecosys- tem processes and pattern” (Foster 1983:2460), and where cyclical fire patterns have a single ignition source: lightning (Foster 1983). In less than one hun- dred years, a region wherein “at least one half of the forest has been removed by [human-caused fires]” (Low 1896:37) has come to be described as “essen- tially unchanged by people” (Hunter 1993:116). In Labrador, the conflicting narratives of histori- cal observers and present-day scientists demonstrate a polarized view of fire histories in the region over time. Contemporary understanding of the combined roles of natural process and cultural practices in shaping landscape appears compromised by an in- ability to both recognise and remember the role of people in shaping landscape with fire. Indigenous peoples have shaped landscapes with fire through- out the world, but human fire histories and their ecological effects have not always been visually interpretable to visitors and new arrivals. Europeans were deeply impressed at their first views of the open understory and park-like spacing of trees in the “pristine” forests of New England, and the profu- sion of wildflowers in California meadows, without realizing that Indigenous fire practices maintained these landscapes (Anderson 2005, Cronon 1983), as well as many of the other pyrogenic landscapes throughout the continent, particularly in eastern North America (Abrams and Nowacki 2008). Much of what non-Indigenous writers know about Indig- enous fire management in North America has not been cumulatively learned and built upon, but rather learned, forgotten, and relearned over centuries (Day 1953). In Labrador—as in many northern regions—hu- man fire histories and the cultural origins of land- scapes have been largely forgotten by non-Indige- nous observers. There is recent literature that builds awareness of these cultural landscapes (Innu Nation and Department of Forest Resources and Agri-Foods 2003, Lemus-Lauzon et al. 2018, Roy et al. 2017), and yet the official provincial narrative has not collectively matured beyond the earlier European visions of a “pristine landscape” (Newfoundland and Labrador 2018), where the land is “unspoiled by anyone before you” and simultaneously imbued with “9,000 years of history” (Destination Labrador 2018). The aim of this review paper is to rekindle some of the embers of the human fire histories of Labrador, and reintroduce the idea that human relationships with fire—past and present—shape landscapes and cultures in the Big Land. This is not to diminish the large-scale ecological effects of lightning-induced fires in the region, but rather to consider the interactive effects of anthropogenic and lightning-induced fires in producing patterns in the boreal forest. Firstly, this paper sets out historical accounts of fire in Labrador, ranging from Indigenous fire management of berry patches, to the use of fire by European settlers for wood harvesting, to accidental conflagrations. Secondly, this paper focuses on contemporary fire practices from a single community, the Inuit Community of Makkovik (Nunatsiavut) (Fig. 2), to illustrate the persistent cultural relationships with fire in Labra- dor. Finally, this paper aims to encourage a deeper reflection on the origins of landscape patterns in Labrador, in order to reconsider the story we want to tell about the role of people in shaping the Big Land we see today, and to enrich our adaptive rep- ertoire in an increasingly pyrogenic landscape. Historical Accounts of Relationships with Fire in Labrador Most historical accounts of the intentional use of fire in Labrador come from the journals of visitors, such as trader George Cartwright (1739–1819), Hudson Bay Company clerk Erland Erlandson (1790–1875), naturalist Henry Hind (1823–1908), geologist Albert Peter Low (1861–1942), and ge- ographer Väinö Tanner (1881–1966). It is neces- sary to bear in mind that their interpretations of Indigenous use of fire come with layers of biases. As non-resident travelers through Labrador, they are not practitioners of the Indigenous relationships with fire they are observing and commenting upon. Their interpretations are couched in the prevailing European pyrophobia and fire suppression mental- ity common to their era (Pyne 1997), and most would have no experience with prescribed burning and its ecological effects, particularly in a boreal context. Instead of seeing habitats, especially ri- parian ones, as having been crafted through the intentional and careful application of fire, they see burned riverbanks as evidence of the careless use of 3 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer Figure 2. Nunatsiavut and its communities, including the Inuit Community of Makkovik. Map used with permission of the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat. 4 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer fire by Indigenous peoples. These conclusions also stem from their often virulently expressed belief in the inferiority of Indigenous peoples, who by ex- tension are judged incapable of responsibly using fire or European technologies—conclusions that ring hollow, juxtaposed as they are with numerous first-hand accounts of Europeans themselves set- ting the forest ablaze. Intentional Use of Fire in Labrador i. Burning berry patches Fire is a widely used tool in berry bush manage- ment among many Indigenous peoples in Canada (Pyne 2007), and the cultural importance of berries to Indigenous peoples in Labrador has been widely documented by visitors (Cuerrier and Hermanutz 2012, Hawkes 1916, Hutton 1912, Inkpen 1999, Karst 2005). It is therefore somewhat surprising that there are few published records detailing fire as a management tool for increasing berry production in Labrador. Tanner (1944) does not directly observe the burning of berry patches, but reports: The Naskaupee liked berries so much that it is said that they made “berry farms” by burning a piece of forest land and growing berries there, chiefly kinds of bilberries and cranberries, which they picked and boiled to a concentrate in the form of cakes (1944:684). In Labrador, bilberries usually refers to Vaccinium uliginosum L., but may also refer to other Vac- cinium species that grow in the region, includ- ing V. cespitosum Michx, V. ovalifolium Sm., V. angustifolium Aiton, V. myrtilloides Michx., and V. boreale I.V. Hall and Aalders (Canadian Endan- gered Species Conservation Council 2016). The principal Vaccinium species to regenerate after a burn in Labrador is V. boreale (Fig. 3). Cranberries likely refers to Vaccinium vitis-idaea L., as V. mac- rocarpon Aiton does not grow in Labrador, and V. oxycoccos L. and V. microcarpum (Turcz. ex Rupr.) Schmalh. grow in wet habitats. The only other historical published account of fire as a berry management tool focuses on berry production as a means to improve bear hunting: At times the Indians purposely burn large areas in order to prepare the ground for bear- hunting; for within a few years after a fire, in this region, the surface becomes thickly covered with blueberries and other small fruits, forming feeding grounds for bears during the autumn months (Low 1896:98). One explanation for the scarcity of printed referenc- es to berry patch burning in Labrador is that certain areas are well-known as fire-prone locations where berry patches periodically regenerate through natu- ral fires (V. Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initia- tive, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.). The present location of Canadian Forces Base 5 Wing Goose Bay is well-known to Innu as an important berrypicking area because of its regular fires; the construction of the base in this particularly good berrypicking area was considered a nuisance from an Innu perspec- tive (V. Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initiative, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.). ii. Creating habitat diversity Small controlled burns were used near camp- sites as a way to create habitat for ptarmigan and bear, and to create stands of dead wood for firewood (Loring 1992:75). Valérie Courtois observes that there is strong spatial alignment between Labrador fire history maps and maps detailing Innu travel routes as identified in the Cultural Protected Area Network in the Forest Plan for District 19 (Innu Nation and Department of Forest Resources and Agri-Foods 2003; V. Courtois, Indigenous Lead- ership Initiative, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.). The Innu Elders she spoke with about these over- lapping patterns explained that fires were likely deliberately set along major travel routes, such as the Naskapi River, to generate areas with berries and smaller animals that could be hunted between larger Caribou hunts, and also to generate areas of good firewood (V. Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initiative, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.). Hind (1863) and Low (1896) each observe the frequency of fire along travel routes, with Hind stating, “fires are generally confined to the coun- try through which the main line of communication runs, such as the Moisie, the Ashwanipi, and Rupert Rivers” (1863:207). As he travels many of these traditional watercourses, Low repeatedly notes the extent of burned hills adjacent to rivers, lakes, and portages, but concludes the majority of these lands were incidentally burned as a result of communica- tion efforts, writing, “the Indians too are often ac- countable for these fires, most of which, it is likely, have been started by them, as they use smoke for signalling from great distances” (1896:98). Low calls these burned lands barren and desolate, yet simultaneously notes the many fruits and species of animals they contained. Apart from his observations on intentionally creating berry habitat for bear- hunting, it appears Low largely did not understand the intent behind the Indigenous fire practices whose habitat legacies he traveled through. 5 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer iii. Caribou Culturally, few species in Labrador are as signifi- cant as Rangifer tarandus (Caribou). It is recounted that fire was used to signal the presence of Caribou and announce a successful hunt (Hind 1863), and according to Erlandson (1833, in Davies 1963) and Banfield and Tener (1958), fire was used by Innu and Inuit to intentionally change migration patterns and direct herd movements for hunting purposes. Although large fires can have negative effects on Caribou habitat by reducing the availability of mat-forming lichens (Scotter 1964), the absence of small-scale periodic fire also reduces ground lichens as conditions become more favorable for ericaceous dwarf shrubs and feather mosses over time (Roturier et al. 2017). Small fires create patches of early-suc- cessional habitat that offer advantages to Caribou in foraging, travelling and predator avoidance (Ander- son and Johnson 2014). Post-fire residual habitats may also be more important to calving than previ- ously thought in reducing visual obstruction and increasing predator avoidance (Skatter et al. 2017). Intentional localised fires could potentially have been used to create patchwork habitats for Caribou herds, especially in areas not prone to regular burning. In their voyages to what is now Nunavik, two Moravian missionaries remarked on the abundance of Caribou tracks at a highly pro- ductive post-burn habitat, which their Inuit guides explained was caused by “Indian’s fires” (Kohl- meister and Kmoch 1814:74): The timber in the woods hereabouts [near Kok- soak River, present-day Nunavik] is not large: we found none fit for masts. The largest trees were not more than eight inches in diameter, and fifteen or twenty feet high. They are chiefly larch and pines. In some places we found them burnt or withered, and were informed by the Esquimaux, that it was the effect of the Indian’s fires. Indeed we saw several places where the Indians had put up huts, and left sufficient ves- tiges of their abode. Berries grow everywhere, and between the river and the wood, the plain is chiefly covered with willows, high grass grow- ing between them, but these and the various shrubs are so low, that a man can easily look over them. In every direction we saw the tracks of Reindeer, and there is every appearance of its being a place much frequented by these ani- mals (Kohlmeister and Kmoch 1814:74). It is not clear from the text whether these fires were intentionally set to create Caribou forage habitat; however, recurrent use of fire by Saami to create lichen-dominated heath for Reindeer grazing land demonstrates the viability of this management tool in other regions (DeLuca et al. 2013). Figure 3. The regrowth of Vaccinium boreale I.V. Hall & Aalders, three years following a forest fire in Goose Bay. Seven years after the burn, V. boreale continues to show abundant fruit production in this area. Photo by Erica Oberndorfer (September 2015). 6 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer iv. Firewood Visitors and settlers also intentionally applied fire to landscapes. Trader George Cartwright advises a correspondent on the best way to set fire to an island—whether this is for creating dry firewood or clearing land is unclear: “Where you find too much Covert upon any island burn it so soon as dry after a good deal of Rain. Never set woods on fire after a long dry time, for you will burn all the soil” (Stopp 2008:205). Fire was a tool liberally employed by seasonal Newfoundland fishermen in Labrador, who set fire to forests upon their departure each fall to create stands of dry fuelwood for the following sea- son. This indiscriminate burning had repercussions for fur-bearing animals and the southern Inuit and settler families who depended on trapping for their own needs and livelihood: At the close of the fishery, the greater number of the “planters” leave their small houses on the coast, and proceeding to the heads of vari- ous bays, go into their winter quarters in their small houses there. During the winter they are engaged in hunting fur-bearing animals. These also are not so plentiful as formerly owing, probably, to the large areas burnt over, either from fires accidentally made, or set on purpose by the owners of schooners, who often fire the country along the shore, so as to easily make dry firewood for future seasons (Low 1896:43). Today, some Labrador Elders say that seasonal Newfoundland fishermen and merchants intention- ally set fires along the coast to drive local peoples from away from their traditional hunting and trap- ping areas, and to monopolize prime fishing berths (Anonymous, 2017, pers. comm.). As Cartwright notes, the timing of fires has a pronounced effect on the ability of forests to recover, which may have made late summer or early autumn fires particularly damaging to coastal forests and residents: When a fire happens on a peat soil, at the end of a very dry summer, the whole of it is burnt away to a great depth; and will not only pro- duce no good timber again, but also, is both dangerous and troublesome to walk over; for great numbers of large stones and rocks, are then left exposed on the surface, and the Indian-tea, currants, etc. which grow between, often prevent their being discovered in time to prevent a bad fall: but if the fire happens early in the summer, or when the ground is wet, the soil takes no damage” (Townsend 1911:344). Uniquely among European observers, Tanner pro- poses that Labrador’s forests would benefit from ju- dicious burning and thinning, at least from a forestry perspective: From what I saw in the interior of the country, the second growth forest is better than the original. The old, degenerate spruce growth, with its thick moss bottom in which the seed cannot reach the soil, is reproduced only by offsets mostly from fallen trees and will be contorted already from the very beginning and never become first-class timber. On the other hand, on the burnt areas young trees are always sprouting and growing up to replace those destroyed, so that growths of all ages are met with at intervals throughout the country. In my opinion, just by a reasonable use of burning, the Labrador forests can be improved (1944:405). v. Gardening Fire was used to improve soil fertility for gardens in Labrador, as demonstrated by trader George Cart- wright’s description of his own gardening practices in southern Labrador: “A fire was made of stumps, sod, etc. on the spot next to the garden door; another piece was manured with rotten kelp and ashes, for cabbages and more radishes” (Townsend 1911:360). Ashes from woodstoves continue to be added to soils in gardens throughout Labrador to help neutralize predominantly acidic soils. Preliminary results from biochar research in Labrador demonstrate a potential improvement in plant growth and crop yield when agricultural soils are treated with additions of bio- char and fishmeal (Abedin 2015), another common fertilizer for garden soils in Labrador. vi. Signalling Fire was used as a signalling tool by Indigenous peoples in the interior of Labrador (Davies 1963, Hind 1863, Low 1896), as well as in coastal areas. Cartwright theatrically notes the signalling methods of Southern Inuit: On observing a collection of brush wood and other dry fuel, I naturally concluded, that I was to be sacrificed; but whether they in- tended to roast me alive or dead, I could not determine. I did not, however, long remain in suspense, for Shuglawina soon dispelled my fears by telling me, that we had done business enough for one day, and therefore he had brought me there to look out for ves- sels at sea (that station commanding a view 7 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer quite across the straits of Belle Isle as far as Quirpon and the adjoining parts of New- found-land) adding, that the wood was to make signals to them (Townsend 1911:88). Overshadowed by Cartwright’s sensationalist prose is his passing observation that this signal fire had been prepared in advance of its intended use, dem- onstrating a careful and methodological approach to the use of fire as a signalling tool. This approach can be contrasted with Cartwright’s own haphaz- ard approach to signalling with fire, and provides insight on how easily fires set by inexperienced practitioners could rapidly catch and spread over large areas: At eight this morning the vessel was discov- ered about four or five miles to windward of Blackguard Bay [...] [B]y my glass I could plainly descry her to be a ship and am certain she is mine. I immediately ran to the top of the highest hill, and set fire to some bushes there, but she took no notice of it” (Townsend 1911:238). Accidental Fires in Labrador Many fires started for specific purposes, such as signalling, had inadvertent consequences. Davies recounts how his small signal fire near North West River accidentally caused an immense forest fire: “The whole mountain, from top to bottom, was one sheet of fire. The fire lasted for upwards of three weeks, and spread over, and completely destroyed, an extent of some hundreds of square miles” (1843:79). Cartwright describes several instances of his own party setting the woods ablaze through negligence: Langman went on shore at Olivestone to roast a haunch of venison, and bake a venison pasty; just as they were ready, the woods caught fire, and burnt with great fury, which forced him and his assistants to make a precipitate retreat: though he saved the venison and implements of cookery; but a boat’s sail and a few other things were considerably injured by the ac- cident (Townsend 1911:33). The widespread effects of accidental “disastrous con- flagrations” (Hind 1863:205) in Labrador’s interior are recounted in vivid detail by Hind, who estimates “a very considerable portion of the Labrador Peninsula has from this cause been rendered an uninhabitable wilderness” (1863:205–206). Writing 35 years later, Low states that thousands of square miles of forest burn every year, and “at least one half of the forest area of the interior has been totally destroyed by fire within the past twenty-five or thirty years” (1896:36). For his part, Low attributes most of these fires to “wandering Indians,” who set fires “either through carelessness or intentionally” (1896:36), and cites cooking, camp and signal fires as the primary causes of forest fires. Hind speculates that the inept or carless adoption of European fire-making tools by Indigenous peoples has increased the frequency of wildfires: No doubt fires have become much more fre- quent since the Indians became acquainted with Europeans, and learned how to make tin- der with powder and to use the flint and steel, and, still more recently, the common friction match. In early times they were dependent altogether on two pieces of flint and ‘punk,’ a fungus growing on the birch tree, or on the bow and drill, when they wished to make a fire—an operation in itself laborious in damp weather, and very difficult after a prolonged rain (1863:207). Tanner, however, expresses great scepticism at the idea that Indigenous peoples are responsible for these extensive wildfires: For my part I find it very difficult to believe the many stories which make out that it must have been just the Indians who are respon- sible for the forest fires [...] Perhaps it is nec- essary to see a forest fire roaring forward over the wastes to be fully persuaded that the Indi- ans take good care not to run the risk of set- ting fire to the trees. A forest fire is indeed a terrible sight. The flames leap from the top of one spruce to another, burning branches and beard-moss are borne far away and then fall down into the dry undergrowth and tongues of flame at once begin to lick the ground. The heat causes the resinous matter to ignite, a new tree takes fire and the flames crackle up the stem, the spruce flashes into flame from top to bottom almost instantaneously. The amazing speed with which fire moves, chas- ing before it everything that can flee, four- footed animals and birds, makes it impossible to escape by speed from an approaching sheet of flame [...] The Indian camp must summon all their power and skill to rescue themselves [...] Does a sensible person now believe that an Indian will allow the fire to run riot if he can check it! (1944:404). 8 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer Hind occasionally undermines his own conclusions that the origins of wildfires lie in careless approaches to fire on the part of Indigenous peoples, writing “We often observed the caution with which the Nausquapee put out the fire before we left any camp ground”; and further noting “the fear they have of spreading fire and destroying their hunting grounds” (1863:225–226). As fire historian Stephen Pyne wryly notes, despite many accounts of their own uncon- trolled camp and signal fires, the role of “wandering Europeans” is seldom included in musings on the increased frequency of forest fires in Labrador during this period (2007). Even a few accounts of accidental conflagrations, such as Davies’ sheet of fire and Cart- wright’s furiously burning woods, point not to the introduction of European technologies as the source of anthropogenic wildfire, but to the introduction of Europeans themselves. Contemporary Relationships with Fire in Labrador Relationships with fire in Labrador are by no means confined to the past, but continue to shape landscape and culture today. This section focuses on contemporary relationships with fire that have been shared by Makkovimiut, residents of the Inuit Com- munity of Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador), in the context of my doctoral work on people-plant rela- tionships (Oberndorfer 2016). This work was guided by Indigenous methodologies (Kovach 2009), which emphasise research questions rooted in and respond- ing to community priorities, locally-resonant meth- ods, and fulfilling ongoing responsibilities towards strengthening relationships. In this manuscript, it is necessary to communicate an overview of research scope, but more important to note that metrics such as interview hours or pages of transcripts do not in- dicate whether research is considered successful by community members, or whether obligations of reci- procity have been met (Oberndorfer et al. 2017). The fire practices detailed in this section are contributed by six (of 34) Makkovimiut plant mentors over the course of 20 visits to Makkovik (2012–2016), and drawn from 250 hours of discussion time, resulting in 147 verified transcripts. Transcripts were verified with individual plant mentors on a line-by-line basis. This research was conducted under permit from the Nunatsiavut Government Research Advisory Com- mittee (NGRAC; issued July 12, 2013, by letter), Nunatsiavut Land Use permits issued annually in Makkovik (2012–2015), and Carleton University Research Ethics Board permit (issued 20 May 2013; Project number 14-0165). The fire practices and traditions of Innu and Southern Inuit communities are not discussed in the paper, except where noted as personal correspondence, as I do not have formal research relationships within these communities. In spring, Makkovimiut apply fire at a localised scale at family cabins, where grass (especially Cala- magrostis canadensis (Michx.) P. Beauv.) is burned on a patch-by-patch basis. This practice controls grass mouse populations (Errol Andersen1), and encourages healthy growth of new grass (Annie Ev- ans2). Grass is burned early in the spring when the snow has just melted and the grass is still wet, which helps ensure only the top layer of dried grass thatch burns (Annie Evans3). Fires were formerly used as part of shore-based fishing techniques. Carol Gear’s Grandfather Edward Jacque was a fisherman who had a berth at Boat’s Cove, in Makkovik Bay, 20 km outside Makkovik. Today the location is quickly accessible by speed- boat, but in earlier years a visit to the berth would take 3–4 hours of rowing each way, depending on the tide (Henry Jacque, Makkovik, 2018, pers. comm.). Carol’s Grandfather would set bonfires on the shore and tend them through the night to attract char into the nets: “Bright light will bring the char around” (Carol Gear4). Carol recalls that many fishermen used this bonfire technique to make the most of their time at their fishing berths, day and night, before the char migrated into inland ponds to spawn (Carol Gear4). Fishing with fire continues today in Innu communi- ties, particularly the community of Uashat mak Mani- Utenam, where every year youth are taken out in canoe and taught how to attract salmon with birchbark torches before spearing them with uashuakanashku (V. Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initiative, Goose Bay, 2018, pers. comm.). Relationships with fire physically affect landscapes in Labrador. In addition, they affect cultural practices and language. For example, many homes in Makkovik are heated by wood stoves, and harvesting fuelwood has had a detectable effect on forest boundaries in northern Labrador (Lemus-Lauzon et al. 2012). Logs, or “junks,” can be cut green and left to season, but many Makkovimiut prefer to harvest dry firewood in areas burned by lightning-ignited fires. Standing dead trees can be harvested once the burned trees have shed their blackened bark (Todd Broomfield5) (Fig. 4). Knowledge of the combustion properties of each species informs some local names for trees: Balsam fir (locally, fir or Killagittuk; Abies balsamea [L.] Mill.) is primarily used for kindling and is called “summer wood” by some because “there’s not a lot of heat in it and it don’t last long!” (Todd Broomfield5). Despite concerns about the inherent danger of wildfire, fires that burn comfortably close to town are welcomed, since this reduces travel time during 9 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer wooding, creates berrypicking areas, and promotes habitat for early successional trees such as poplar (Populus tremuloides Michx.) that are important for carvers (John Winters6). Speaking about a fire that burned across the bay from Makkovik in the 1950’s, John Winters says, “When Old Man’s Head burned, they were some glad!” (John Winters7). Forest fires are not deliberately set to create dry wood: there are strong prohibitions against inten- tionally setting fires in Makkovik. It’s possible these strict unspoken rules could be linked to the edicts of early Moravian missionaries and the norms of fire-suppression forestry in Europe of that era (Pyne 1997). Extinguishing a campfire is still of paramount importance in Labrador, so much so that campfire safety is enshrined in sporting events. An illustrative case is the Labrathon, an event at the Labrador Winter Games that consists of a timed cir- cuit of traditional trapper skills such as snowshoe- ing, setting a trap, chipping a hole in the ice, and building a fire until snow boils in a kettle (Fig. 5). Competitors are disqualified if they move on from their kettle-boiling skill without fully extinguish- ing their fire. Not all fire feeds on wood alone. Each summer, Makkovimiut cut Blackberry sod (Empetrum nigrum L. peat) for use in smokehouses, where trout and Arctic char are hung to smoke (Fig. 6a, b). Smoke from Blackberry sod and/or rotten wood preserves and flavours fish: Rotten wood is really good. You puts the berry het [Blackberry sod], you starts the fire, and you puts the berry het over it, and then you puts the rotten wood on top of that. That could be damp wood, rotten. And then you puts the sod on top. That’s the way we used to do it. The smell from the berry het and the rotten wood makes real good smoke” (Nellie Winters8). Blackberry sod was also traditionally lit in large pans or pots and kept smouldering as an insect re- pellent, especially while Makkovimiut were at their summer fishing places (Fig. 7): And my Mom used to smoke out the rooms, the bedrooms and the house at the night be- fore we go in and go to bed. And then you put Figure 4. Wooding (wood harvesting) at the burned woods at South Brook, outside Makkovik. Photo used with permission of photographer Mary B. Andersen. 10 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer it out by the door and it kept the flies away. And down on the stage head where they were working with the fish, they would have one going too, to keep the flies away (Annie Evans9). Cutting sod induces topographical change (Fig. 8), possibly altering local hydrology and biodiversity. Deeper sod excavation as in the case of Inuit sod hous- es is a contributing factor in the development of unique plant communities at these former homes (Oberndorfer et al., in revision). Fire plays an important role in the cultural life of Makkovimiut, which also incorporates adapted European traditions. On Christmas Eve, candles are lit on Christmas trees, and children receive apples (originally turnips) bearing lit candles at church. Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, is celebrated on November 5 each year as Makkovi- miut go visiting from bonfire to bonfire along the shore, eating candied apples and throwing small effigies into the flames (Fig. 9). Nellie Winters talks of the New Year’s tradition of setting a tree on fire from her childhood home further north in Okak Bay (Fig. 10): Figure 5. Competitor Sam Morris (Team Happy Valley-Goose Bay) boils a kettle during the 2013 Labrador Winter Games Labrathon event. Fires must be completely extinguished before competitors proceed to the next station (11 March 2013). Photo by Erica Oberndorfer. You’d tuck the tree over there somewhere and put it in the ballicatters [near-shore ice from spray and waves]. You’d stick it in when it was quite mild and it would freeze in. It would look some pretty. Then on New Year’s Eve, they’d light it. They’d make sure with a stick that it was going good, cause that’s where the meena would be on the tree, a bit of coal oil. They’d light that, and it would blaze up. He was a long time burning, because it would be a spruce tree (Nellie Winters10). Another beloved Labrador tradition is the boil-up, which involves making a small fire outdoors, cut- ting a kettle stick, laying out Balsam fir boughs, and making tea (Fig. 11). The ubiquity of boil-ups, the frequency of these low temperature softwood fires, and the fidelity to family spots over genera- tions may have cumulative enrichment effects on soils. Other sources of enrichment, such as bones and shells from local diets, increase species rich- ness at small scales in Labrador (Oberndorfer et al., in revision); small-scale fires may have similar ecologically transformative effects. Conclusions Lightning-induced fires are indisputable agents of ecological change in boreal forests (Latham and Williams 2001), and residents of North West River and Sheshatshiu could attest to that fact. Labrador- ians could, however, collectively refute the idea that Labrador’s forests are essentially unchanged by people, either in the past or present day. Rather than being ecologically inert inhabitants of a pristine wilderness (Denevan 1992), Labrador’s peoples are transformative shapers of landscape in their own right: they directly manage fire, and they adapt cultural practices, like wooding, to fire- transformed landscapes. Historical accounts also highlight the ecological impacts of transient visi- tors and newcomers on the boreal forest through their frequently unintented disastrous conflagra- tions. The fire history of Labrador is the story of interactive effects between anthropogenic and lightning-induced fires, and it is these interactive effects we must continue to asses in our current context of rapidly changing climate and increasing anthropogenic impacts on boreal systems. Recognizing the role of humans in shaping landscape is critical in all regions, and perhaps es- pecially important in regions popularly considered to be remote or unpeopled. The persistent failure of European settlers to recognize widespread Indig- enous landscape management, including through 11 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer Figure 6. Randy Edmunds digging blackberry sod (Empetrum nigrum L.; peat) for his smokehouse (a); the sod starting to smoke the trout (b) (17 July 2013). Photos by Erica Oberndorfer. Figure 7. Annie Evans demonstrates how to light a smokepot with blackberry sod (Empetrum nigrum L. peat) in an old mixing pan, in Makkovik (11 September 2013). Photo by Erica Oberndorfer. Figure 8. Rectangular holes left in Empetrum nigrum sod after cutting sod for smokehouse use (July 2013). Holes from previous cutting gradually revegetate with clonal species but depressions in topography remain noticeable. Photo by Erica Oberndorfer. 12 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic E. Oberndorfer the use of fire, historically led to the dispossession of cultivated lands and harvesting areas (Deur and Turner 2005). Perpetuating the image of Labrador as pristine wilderness ignores the sovereignty and history of Indigenous peoples in this land. It also ignores the ecological contributions of Indigenous peoples to present-day ecological patterns, thereby excising critical factors involved in understanding why these patterns currently exist and how they may be changing. It will only be possible to an- ticipate the responses of boreal forests to changing climate if we understand that our current baseline conditions have themselves been structured by past human activities. Among non-Indigenous land managers, there re- mains a large gap in understanding of Indigenous fire management practices in Labrador. Learning about Indigenous approaches to working with fire in this region is a pressing need. As fire events and human populations come into more frequent contact in boreal regions, it is imperative that boreal residents become better acquainted with Indigenous relationships with fire: as an entity (Miller and Davidson-Hunt 2010), a carefully wielded tool for crafting landscape, a sacred responsibility, and as a living being (Joudry 2016, Kimmerer and Lake 2001). Developing a more engaged relationship with fire will require a very be- lated request to learn from the ways that Indigenous communities practice relationships with fire—not No. 40 Figure 10. New Year’s Eve in Okak Bay, where traditions involved freezing a spruce tree into the ice earlier in the fall, and setting it ablaze on New Year’s Eve. Illustration by Nellie Winters, Makkovik, 2016. 13 Figure 9. Reg Andersen’s bonfire on Bonfire Night (November 5), one of many family bonfires burning in Makkovik on that evening (5 November 2014). Photo by Erica Oberndorfer. 2020 Journal of the North Atlantic No. 40 E. Oberndorfer simply as a clinical management tool to reduce risk to humans, but in the context of complex connections and responsibilities to land. Acknowledgements I would like to gratefully acknowledge the Makkovimiut plant mentors with whom this knowledge resides, and thank them for sharing their knowledge with this readership. Thank you to the Makkovik Inuit Community Government and Nunatsiavut Government for their support of this work. Thank you to Makkovimiut research advisors Carol Gear and Todd Broomfield for the time and effort they contribute towards advising this research, and to Conservation Officer Errol Andersen and Sheldon Andersen for their guidance on the land. For candor on a sensitive topic, I thank an Elder who wishes to remain anonymous. I thank Valérie Courtois for her observations on Innu fire practices and for reading a draft of this manuscript, and I thank the anonymous review- ers for their editorial contributions. I particularly thank one anonymous reviewer for their kind and thoughtful encour- agement to consider fire histories as interactive, an insight that has greatly improved this manuscript. I acknowledge financial support for this research from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Carleton University and the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Envi- ronments, the Northern Scientific Training Program, the Canadian Northern Studies Trust, Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat, and the Labrador Institute of Me- morial University. Literature Cited Abedin, J. 2015. Potential for using biochar to improve soil fertility and increase crop productivity in the sandy soils of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL. Report to the Harris Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Unpublished Report. 30 pp. Abrams, M.D., and G.J. Nowacki. 2008. Native Americans as active and passive promoters of mast and fruit trees in the eastern USA. The Holocene 18(7):1123–1137. Achard, F., H.D. Eva, D. Mollicone, and R. Beuchle. 2008. 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