NEWS Fire for ceremony during ban was justified: supe

Jasper’s National Park’s Field Unit Superintendent is defending Parks Canada’s decision to issue a cultural use permit for fire-tending during a park wide fire ban.
Meanwhile, Parks Canada resource conservation officers were called to respond to a human-wildlife conflict issue at the same cultural site where traditional ceremonies were being practiced.
On July 18, Parks Canada issued a fire ban due to elevated wildfire danger. The ban, which was still active at press time, covers the entire park including all front and backcountry campgrounds and day-use areas.
“Lighting or maintaining fires in this area is strictly prohibited,” officials declared in an information bulletin. “The fire ban includes all open fires.”
At the same time, however, Parks Canada issued a cultural use permit for First Nations communities to practice ceremonial sweats. Sweat-lodge ceremonies are purification rituals which are practiced by many First Nations across North America. The ceremony includes a fire pit to heat rocks, over which a dome of saplings, blankets and sometimes canvas tarpaulins are placed. Sweat lodge fires are often kept for days at a time. A fire-tender keeps watch over the pit and helps facilitate the ceremony for participants.
Some members of the public were frustrated by the apparent double standard, but Alan Fehr, Park Superintendent, defended the decision to allow an open fire at the cultural site. Fehr said when officials looked at the permit application from Indigenous community representatives it was determined that the request was justifiable.
“We spoke to the groups, we said ‘here’s the [fire ban] situation, we understand this is important to you in terms of your culture,’” Fehr said.
Fehr said Parks Canada’s number one priority is public safety. He likened the issuance of a cultural use permit to other restricted use permits, such as flying a drone aircraft.
“We look at what the request is…whether it’s going to be safe, whether it supports the park’s goals, is it consistent with the management plan?” he said. “If we think the ends justifies the means we would permit that through a restricted access permit.”
In this case, Fehr said the groups had fire protection equipment on hand.
“We said OK we’ll permit this, and if at any time, just like any other restricted use permit…we would rescind the permit if there was a problem.”
During that same week, there was a different type of problem at the Sixth Bridge cultural site. A grizzly bear had wandered into the area, apparently lured by an untidy campsite. Resource conservation officials hazed the bear away, but the animal came back that night, knocking over a tent while a man was sleeping in it.
Fehr said he was present when the grizzly bear first approached the site. Like all human-wildlife conflict situations, he said this matter was dealt with by educating the user groups about proper bear safe practices. In this case, Parks officials convened a “tailgate meeting” to discuss the incident with the participating groups.
“We managed it like we do with all incidents,” he said. “We use education and awareness and so on to try to prevent any kind of issues from happening.”
Jasper National Park’s Sixth Bridge site was designated as a cultural and spiritual site for Indigenous groups with historic ties tot he Jasper area in 2012.
Many First Nations and Metis used the Athabasca Valley for trapping, hunting, gathering and trading.
Fehr said all special use permits are assessed on a case-by-case basis. He expects similar applications for fire-tending to come down the pipe, but stressed that the permit issued in July holds no bearing on future requests.
“This isn’t a blanket, you-can-have-fire-for-ceremony under all circumstances,” he said. “The groups that come understand that.”

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