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Fire in the Nisenan Homeland: The Politics of Traditional Ecological Knowledge for the Nevada City Rancheria


This thesis examines the cultural burning practices of the Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria. Prior to state policies of fire suppression and the genocidal Gold Rush era, Nisenan people used fire in numerous ways to care for themselves and their homeland nestled between the Bear and Yuba River watersheds. Their relationship to fire was an inseparable part of an integrated way of life. This thesis argues that mobilizations of cultural burning as "traditional ecological knowledge" by state and corporate entities in the present omit important aspects of Nisenan uses of fire. This omission represents a failure to meaningfully engage with Nisenan perspectives. The argument unfolds through an examination of two Nevada City Rancheria projects: consultation for the North Yuba Forest Partnership, a multi-agency forest restoration project on public land; and the Rancheria's own burning project on private land. This discussion is situated in the context of the Gold Rush genocide and the ongoing erasure of Nisenan people from their homelands. It includes a critique of past anthropological work by Alfred L. Kroeber which has directly contributed to the Rancheria's erasure.

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