The fires of settler colonialism: William J. Curtis, The Slater Fire Was the Product of Settler Colonialism, MA dissertation, California State Polytechnic University, 2022


Abstract: The Slater Fire of 2020 burned in Karuk aboriginal territory overseen by the Klamath National Forest. It burned over 200 homes to the ground and ravage over 100,000 acres of forest. This thesis argues that state-enforced fire suppression policies and methods are tools of settler-colonial erasure and the continuation of genocidal violence towards Karuk people. It analyzes the conflict between interests of the colonial state on one side and Indigenous resistance and survival on the other. Fire is an essential tool for the survival of Indigenous cultural identities, the material security of said populations, and the health of the environs that they have inhabited since time immemorial. In describing the history of this conflict, this work synthesizes historical narratives with critical analysis to demonstrate the aims of state sponsored fire suppression, and to illustrate the necessity of Indigenous populations’ ability to apply cultural fire. Settler colonial studies serve as the analytical foundation for this piece of research. Settler colonialism functions as a crossroads of critical theories that illuminate various ways that the settler state perpetuates regimes of erasure and genocidal violence towards Indigenous peoples and their lands. Ecological frameworks critical of settler land and resource management practices and policies are utilized to demonstrate the effects of settler-colonialism on Karuk spaces and peoples. The lived experiences and histories of Karuk people are a central feature of this thesis that have been accessed via interviews with cultural practitioners and community members and the analysis of various historical sources. This thesis illustrates the connection between genocide perpetrated towards Indigenous peoples during the 19th century and ongoing genocidal violence inherent within fire suppression and land management regimes maintained within the United States of America.

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