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Canadian wildfires hit Indigenous communities hard, threatening their land and culture

Disastrous crying by wildfire happened in Canadian Forest.

EAST PRAIRIE METIS SETTLEMENT, Alberta (AP) — Carrol Johnston counted her blessings as she stood on the barren site where her home was destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire that forced her to flee her northern Alberta community two months ago.

Her family escaped unharmed, though her beloved cat, Missy, didn’t make it out before a “fireball” dropped on the house in early May. But peony bushes passed down from her late mother survived and the blackened May Day tree planted in memory of her longtime partner is sending up new shoots — hopeful signs as she prepares to start over in the East Prairie Métis Settlement, about 240 miles (385 kilometers) northwest of Edmonton.

“I just can’t leave,” said Johnston, 72, who shared a home with her son and daughter-in-law. “Why would I want to leave such beautiful memories?”The worst wildfire season in Canadian history is displacing Indigenous communities from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, blanketing them in thick smoke, destroying homes and forests and threatening important cultural activities like hunting, fishing and gathering native plants.

Thousands of fires have scorched more than 42,000 square miles (110,000 square kilometers) across the country so far. On Tuesday, almost 900 fires were burning— most of them out of control — according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre website.

Fires aren’t uncommon on Indigenous lands, but they’re now occurring over such a widespread area that many more people are experiencing them at the same time — and some for the first time — stoking fears of what a hotter, drier future will bring, especially to communities where traditions run deep.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Raymond Supernault, chairman of the East Prairie Métis Settlement, where he said more than 85% of the 129-square-mile (334-square-kilometer) settlement burned in the first wildfire there in over 60 years. Fourteen houses and 60 other structures were destroyed by the intense, fast-moving fire that led to the evacuation of almost 300 people and decimated forested land.

“In blink of eye, we lost so much … it was devastating. I can’t stress that enough,” said Supernault, who said he hasn’t seen any elk or moose, both important food sources, since the fire.

“We don’t just jump in the car and go to the IGA,” for groceries, Supernault said. “We go to the bush.”

By Associated Press

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