News From Native California Volume 31, Issue 3 - Page 16

Bring Back the By Julie Cordero-Lamb Jared Dahl Aldern & Teresa Romero AFTER THE FIRES AND THE MUD, NOW IS THE TIME TO BRING GOOD, INDIGENOUS FIRES BACK TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ON A BROADER SCALE. in santa barbara County, just below Romero Canyon in Montecito, lies an old family cemetery. The old cemetery is today unmarked, without headstones, and it carries the remains of ancestors for generations. The cemetery holds both Chumash and Californio ancestors, carrying a distinct cultural history and landscape that is familiar among tribal communities in Southern California. The old Romero trail is in actuality an old Chumash trail that led to villages throughout the coastal ranges along with many other trails. Stories of these trails have been passed on orally through families for generations. It is a place where families gathered traditional foods and medicines, including acorns. Just before the massive Thomas Fire of December 2017, large manzanita, ceanothus, and other chaparral shrubs filled Romero Canyon from floor to rim. Within the canyon and nearby, these shrubs encroached on sacred sites and Chumash gathering areas that, prior to settlement and fire-suppression policies, had been kept clear of shrubs by periodic Chumash cultural burns. The ferocious Thomas Fire had no problem clearing the closely packed shrubs, burning out even large, extensive root systems and leaving only loose ashes in the root holes, which extended, in some places, up to six feet underground. When the heavy rains of January 8 and 9, 2018, rolled off the topsoil that the fire had baked to a water- proof finish and then surged into the underground “pipes” formed by the now-vacant root holes, whole hillsides came 14 ▼ N E WS F ROM N AT IVE C AL IFO RNIA loose and crashed with their mud, boulders, and trees onto houses, living people, plants, animals, and the bones of ancestors. What the fires had not consumed and the smoke had not choked, the floods, finally, engulfed. In the face of these catastrophes, it is time for federal, state, and local agencies to ensure a place at the table for knowledgeable Indigenous experts on native plant species, fire, and hydrology. They need to negotiate cost- and time- efficient agreements to reintroduce— ecosystem by ecosystem, microclimate by microclimate—the cultural fires the traditional, regenerative horticulturalists of Native California have always conducted.