The IPBN’s activities are rooted in the self-determination of each participating Native American community. Each has a long-standing fire culture and each has the right to shape a path to a better fire future. As such, the activities of the IPBN are customized by each community for that community. Sometimes the work is led by a Tribal government, like a department of natural resources or fire department, sometimes by an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization, and sometimes by a few community members. No matter the path, the work is focused on locally determined revitalization of traditional fire culture in the context of today’s fire situation.

Photo Credit: James Miller/TNC

Typical IBPN activities include community- and family-based burning, fire training that supports Indigenous cultural burning, culturally centered fire planning, Indigenous-led research, and connecting elders and youth to prepare the next generation of cultural fire practitioners. Members also come together, virtually or in person, to take part in working groups to explore and address topics of shared interest, such as building a cultural burn program or understanding the Reserved Treaty Rights Lands Program.

The IPBN also works to empower agencies to embrace Indigenous cultural burning. Many agency partners are unaware that our fire cultures still exist. Through the IPBN support network, the activities in our communities combine to encourage the state and federal agencies that regulate how Native Americans can and cannot use fire to make room for Indigenous fire cultures. We are eager for our sacred relationships with fire and our sophisticated fire practices to be welcomed so that we can help bring fire back into balance across the United States.

Our fire practices are fundamentally place-based, applicable to each community’s ancestral territory. As such, the IPBN is not designed to train fire practitioners in mainstream fire systems designed for mobile firefighting. Many of our community members excel at firefighting as part of the much-needed federal fire workforce, and many tribal governments have highly respected fire and fuels crews that serve throughout the U.S. While we honor those crews and the programs that support them, our role is fundamentally different: to sustain permanent, place-based Indigenous fire cultures.

  • Revitalization of cultural knowledge, practices, and belief systems
  • Juxtaposition of cultural burning with dominant fire institutions
  • Public land management planning
  • Legal and policy foundation for Native American fire sovereignty
  • Intensive, multi-dimensional training in cultural burning
  • Reinstating cultural burning on land classified as Protected Areas
  • Outreach and communication with non-tribal stakeholders
  • Learning and evaluating by doing, observing, and listening
  • Youth and elder engagement
Photo Credit: James Miller/TNC

Leadership Structure

The IPBN’s leadership team of Native American Co-leads and Advisors guides network growth and activities.

  • Margo Robbins, Executive Director, Cultural Fire Management Council (Yurok Tribe)
  • John Waconda, New Mexico Indigenous partnerships program director (The Nature Conservancy)
  • Gesse Bullock, fire management coordinator (Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas)
  • Aja Conrad, Pikyav Field Institute program manager for the Karuk Department of Natural Resources (Karuk Tribe) 
  • Bill Tripp, director of natural resources and environmental policy for the Karuk Tribe (Karuk Tribe)
  • Don Hankins, professor, Department of Geography and Planning at California State University – Chico 
  • Elizabeth Azzuz, director of traditional fire, Cultural Fire Management Council (Yurok Tribe)
  • Frank Lake, research ecologist/PSW tribal Liaison, U.S. Forest Service (Karuk descendant)
  • Greg Moon, fire chief and director of emergency services, Hoopa Valley Tribe (Hoopa Valley)
  • Jeff Kirwan, professor emeritus and forestry extension specialist in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, Virginia Tech (Nause-Waiwash Band)
  • Keith Karnes, forestry director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  • Michael “Meeko” Sanchez, fuels captain, Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources (Karuk)
  • Nolan Colegrove, district ranger, Six Rivers National Forest (Hoopa Valley)
  • Rhiana Jones, environmental program director, Washoe Environmental Protection Department (Washoe Tribe of NV and CA)
  • Brie Fraley NA Indigenous landscapes & communities director, The Nature Conservancy (Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation)
  • Robert “BJ” Gotchie, fire management officer, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
  • Steve Rondeau, natural resources director, The Klamath Tribes
  • Tim Sexton, fire program manager, The Klamath Tribes
  • Will Harling, director, Mid-Klamath Watershed Council
  • Mary Huffman, director, Indigenous Peoples Burning Network, The Nature Conservancy
  • Bob Bale, cross-cultural fire practitioner, The Nature Conservancy
  • Gabe Cahalan (Coda Fellow), fire manager, The Nature Conservancy in Maryland/D.C.
  • Autumn Bjugstad, executive coordinator, North America Fire, The Nature Conservancy

Working Groups

Across the IPBN, participants share similar challenges as we work to revitalize our fire cultures. We have working groups that enable us to focus on specific topics. These working groups may come, go or stay active according to participants’ needs and interests. Currently the IPBN has three working groups:

The Emerging Cultural Burning Programs Working Group provides peer-to-peer learning for participants who are just starting their cultural burning programs. They may have no fire program in their tribe, or they may want to integrate an emphasis on Indigenous cultural burning into an existing fire program. Participants in this working group may also be exploring whether or not they want to become part of the IPBN.  

This working group is coached by two IPBN Advisory Team members who have built different kinds of fire programs: Margo Robbins, executive director of the Cultural Fire Management Council (CFMC), and Gesse Bullock, fire program manager of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. CFMC is a non-profit organization. Itsfire program is connected to the Yurok Tribe through a memorandum of understanding. It is funded primarily through competitive government grants and private funds. The fire program of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is funded primary through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). It has been highly successful meeting cultural needs through the BIA’s Reserved Treaty Lands Rights program.

The National Scope Working Group serves participants who share interests in working with federal and state agencies in support of Indigenous cultural burning. Participants are often involved in federal fire initiatives in their homelands, such as the BIA Reserved Treaty Rights Lands program and State, Private and Tribal Forestry within the U.S. Forest Service. While neither the National Scope working group nor the IPBN conducts lobbying, participants exchange information about state and national committees on which they serve, interactions with upper-level government officials, ongoing policy discussions, and government funding programs that could support Indigenous cultural burning.

The Intergenerational Learning and Training Working Group fields requests from throughout the IPBN to provide fire training opportunities that support Indigenous cultural burning. Because many Native American fire cultures were disrupted by colonization and criminalizing Indigenous cultural burning, strengthening the transfer of knowledge and practice between elders and  youth is critical. In addition, tribes exchanging learning with one another  in multiple locations is informative. Staff members of tribal government fire departments and Indigenous community members alike may request IPBN-supported travel opportunities for live-fire training and practice designed to meet cultural needs. 

To the extent that participants are seeking mainstream federal or state certifications and qualifications for prescribed burning, we refer them to training activities that take place throughout the Fire Networks, prescribed burning associations, government agencies and tribal colleges. This may include online courses, cooperative burning and TREX events.

For Non-Indigenous Partners

The Indigenous Peoples Burning Network is created by and for Indigenous fire practitioners and cultural leaders. However, the IPBN also works to empower others, such as state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations to become congruent with cultural fire practices and to operate through Tribal perspectives. For non-Indigenous participants in the Fire Networks, we host a new cohort of our Beginners Working Group every 18 months, plus an ongoing “graduates” group. We will be accepting nominations for the fifth cohort of the Beginners Working Group in Spring 2024.

The Beginners Working Group is for primarily people in the Fire Networks who want to develop equitable fire partnerships with Native American Tribal nations, but who aren’t sure how to get started. If you are like many non-Indigenous people, you might be asking, “What is my first step? What if I say the wrong thing? How do I process the egregious history that I’m just now learning?” Facilitated by Fire Networks staff, participants meet remotely each month for 18 months. Together they learn more about Native American history pertaining to fire, key legislation and policies, and contemporary themes in fire sovereignty. They complete desktop research about the tribes with which they hope to partner and encourage each other to take first in-person steps to invite relationships. For more information on the Beginners Working Groups, please contact Mary Huffman or Autumn Bjugstad. 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples informs the activities and practices of the IPBN and the Fire Networks as a whole. Attending to the right to self-determination, the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and the obligation to advocate for Indigenous Peoples rights are present in our everyday work