Kanyon Sayers-Roods Ignites Land Healing with Cultural Burn at tooyohtak for CAL FIRE

by Jonathan “ShadowWolf” Bunting | Shadow Strategies & Solutions LLC | October 10, 2023

Join our effort in sharing this article, "Reigniting Indigenous Fire Resilience" by Jonathan "ShadowWolf" Bunting about Kanyon Sayers-Roods and Indian Canyon Nation, shedding light on the vital role of Indigenous communities in stewarding the land through fire. Join us in sharing this powerful narrative of resilience and cultural preservation. Link to images and text folder: [Raw Files for publication here] Let's amplify Indigenous voices together! #IndigenousWisdom #CulturalHeritage #FireResilience - Original laid out PDF Here

“Prescribed fire is medicine.
Traditional burning today has benefits to society as well as supporting what the tribes need.”

– Frank Lake of the Karuk and Yurok
US Forest Service research ecologist

Mutsun-Ohlone Two-Spirit Woman, Tribal Chairwoman, artist, educator, activist, and Indigenous Generalized Specialist, Kanyon “CoyoteWoman” Sayers-Roods, played a vital role in a powerful cultural burn event, held by CAL FIRE on September 19, 2023, at tooyohtak, within the Mutsun Linguistic Territory. The place-name, “tooyohtak,” means “bee place” in the Mutsun language, and is known by the non-Indigenous settlers as Fremont Peak, in the Gavilan Mountain Range.

Mutsun-Ohlone Two-Spirit Woman, Tribal Chairwoman, artist, educator, activist, and Indigenous Generalized Specialist, Kanyon “CoyoteWoman” Sayers-Roods, played a vital role in a powerful cultural burn event, held by CAL FIRE on September 19, 2023, at tooyohtak, within the Mutsun Linguistic Territory. The place-name, “tooyohtak,” means “Place of the Bees” in the Mutsun language, and is known by the non-Indigenous settlers as Fremont Peak, in the Gavilan Mountain Range.

Kanyon, whose Native name is “CoyoteWoman,” is the Tribal Chairwoman of Indian Canyon Nation (ICN), known Federally (but not Tribally Recognized) as the Indian Canyon Chualar Tribe of the Costanoan-Ohlone People, and California State-recognized as the Indian Canyon Mutsun Band of Costanoan-Ohlone People. She acts as the President of ICN’s 501(C)(3) nonprofit and administrative arm, Costanoan Indian Research Inc (CIR); and is the Co-Founder and CEO of Kanyon Konsulting LLC, where she teaches #TruthInHistory, works to bridge the gap between indigenous pedagogies and the modern world, etc.

Kanyon took center stage during a prescribed burn, or as California Natives call it, a “cultural burn” held by CAL FIRE in the Mutsun Linguistic Territory, within what is often contemporarily referred to as Ohlone lands. This event showcased the power of bridging Indigenous traditions with contemporary fire management practices.

Photo by Kanyon Sayers-Roods - Benito Link announcement: https://benitolink.com/prescribed-burn-planned-for-san-benito-county-3/

A prescribed burn is a controlled fire intentionally set under specific conditions to manage vegetation, improve habitats, restore ecosystems, control pests, reduce wildfire risks, promote soil health, and support research and education. It’s a carefully planned and monitored practice that offers various environmental and safety benefits. These burns were practiced by California Natives since time immemorial, up until such burns were outlawed by the US and California governments.

A dynamic advocate of Truth in History, Kanyon addressed the participants in attendance, saying, “I understand that you may not have a chance to encounter an indigenous person, often, but we, as community members, can honor Truth In History. And, including the people who aren’t here, the voices who aren’t here, is just one more way that we come together and we raise awareness.”

To set the stage for the cultural burn in a good way, Kanyon shared her ancestral knowledge. She introduced the use of white sage, a plant harvested and dried in California, to cleanse oneself with its sacred smoke. According to teachings passed down from her mother Ann-Marie Sayers, and learned through intertribal indigenous cultural teachings, she explained, “that we are using the smoke and we are purifying our eyes, so we see but the truth; our ears, so hear but the truth; our mouth, so we speak with the truth; our body, so we are true with where it is that we stand on our Mother Earth.”

Adding an even deeper layer of cultural richness, Kanyon shared traditional Mutsun-language songs and prayers. She offered the Mutsun-language Fire Song, her Chumash-language Grandmother’s Song (varying from the traditional Chumash song to allow sharing in mixed gatherings and being recorded without disrespecting Indigenous traditions), and the Mutsun-language Hummingbird Song. The power of these songs is not only their beauty but also their role in uniting people with the first people (the plants and animals, who came first), and invoking a connection with the land and ancestors.

During a guided and interactive Mutsun-language prayer, Kanyon invited participants to join in unison, speaking the words:
pire kan-ama,
sii kan-patYtYan,
hitTTew kan-nossow,
sottow kan-nossow
This translates into English as:
Earth my Body
Water my Blood
Air my Breath
Fire my Spirit

The prayer carries profound significance.

It reinforces the notion of our interconnectedness with the natural world, emphasizing the importance of preserving and respecting the Earth.

Photos 4 & 5: The prescribed burn was safely and expertly tended.

The CAL FIRE prescribed burn event was part of a series of planned burns taking place from September 18 to 24. While the burn Kanyon participated in was a harmonious blending of Indigenous traditions and fire management, a CAL FIRE press release the following day announced the suspension of prescribed burns in the area due to smoke from northern California complex fires and other wildfires impacting air quality in Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz Counties.

Photo 6: CAL FIRE members extinguished the fire as needed.

Kanyon has expressed her understanding of CAL FIRE’s decision while expressing hope that these vital burns would continue as soon as possible. She asserted, “Prescribed burns are necessary in order to foster a fire-resilient community.” Kanyon’s commitment to honoring Truth In History, sharing Indigenous culture, and advocating for the land’s well-being remains unwavering.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force has recognized the importance of cultural burns in wildfire prevention and is working to expand their use. In recent years, Native American tribes have played a crucial role in reestablishing controlled burns to clear debris, reduce wildfire fuel, and protect the land. These practices contribute to making California’s forests more resilient and less susceptible to devastating wildfires. When Indigenous voices are included and headed in regards to land management, everything heals. The land heals. The animals heal. Our bodies heal. Our hearts heal. Our minds heal. Our spirits heal. The land, the people, and the first people find peace, connectedness, and harmony. There is much more that indigenous voices can offer than people often realize or recognize.

Photo 7: Gov. Newsom speaking after peak wildfire season’s end.

This is one of the many reasons why Kanyon established Kanyon Konsulting LLC. Bridging the divide between Indigenous and contemporary value systems is a crucial mission for the land, and those packing the land. Kanyon’s consultancy has made significant progress in this endeavor, yet the work continues. There is pressing need for widespread Cultural Competency Trainings across all professional fields and for the general public, fostering a generation of better Ancestors-In-Training. If you or someone you know, or your organization, seeks further information, or are curious about Cultural Sensitivity Training, Indigenous Insight Workshops, or going “Beyond Plans Acknowledgements,” please visit https://kanyonkonsulting.com.

Kanyon and the Indigenous communities she represents are at the forefront of this critical movement, championing cultural burning practices to safeguard the environment and preserve traditional wisdom. In these cultural burns, they find a powerful way to honor the land and uphold their ancestral traditions, providing hope for a more fire-resilient California.

The collaboration between Indigenous leaders like Kanyon Sayers-Roods and organizations like CAL FIRE highlights the crucial role of Native communities in wildfire resilience efforts, contributing to the revival of cultural burning practices that have been vital for millennia. As Kanyon’s wisdom and cultural knowledge continue to inspire, California’s landscapes hold the promise of becoming more resilient and fire-ready.

About the Author
Jonathan Bunting is the CEO of Shadow Strategies & Solutions LLC, the Special Advisor to Kanyon Sayers-Roods, and the Artistic Director of Costanoan Indian Research Inc and Indian Canyon Nation.

After decades of professional experience in organizations and industries operating from a capitalistic, Western, settler-colonial perspective, he found peace, purpose, and acceptance from Kanyon Sayers-Roods and the community of Indian Canyon Nation.

He is committed, humbled, and honored, to utilizing his skills and privilege to benefit the people of Indian Canyon and to help spread their message, their work, and the invaluable impact they have on the surrounding communities and the world.

Ohlone Peoples of Pacific Coast