City of Iqaluit resolves a burning issue over traditional fires
“We have been here thousands of years making tea as Inuit women”
Two weeks ago, when Pitsulala Lyta was forbidden to make the traditional heather fires for tea she has regularly made on the land outside Iqaluit with a group of other Inuit women, she stood her ground.
The fire department and shelter director where Lyta stays had repeatedly told her she needed a permit for these fires, Lyta said, so she reached out to Mayor Madeleine Redfern, who advocated on her behalf.
“They were intimidating me, riding around watching me,” Lyta said in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“They insisted we not make a fire, even after I said we’d been here thousands of years making tea as Inuit women.”
Redfern emailed the fire department to clarify the issue, and when Lyta told her last Friday that still her shelter director was discouraging her from making fires, Redfern went to the shelter directly with the burn permit requirements in hand.
Later, on July 3, the city issued a public service announcement about what kinds of fires require a fire permit and which kinds do not.
In short, Lyta was right.
“The city would like to remind residents that a burn permit is not required to cook food or heat beverages using a traditional or ‘heather’ fire, a barbecue or Coleman stove. However, permits are required for camp fires. Also, a reminder that camp fires must be 30 meters or 100 feet from a building, and only untreated wood can be used,” the PSA said.
Permits must be obtained for burning combustible materials within the city boundaries.
A traditional or heather fire is one that is small in size and would use heather or other tundra materials as the source of fire.
“The inclusion of traditional or heather fire in the exemption is to expressly recognize and respect that Inuit culture includes rights associated with hunting and harvesting,” said Andrea Spitzer, communications manager for the City of Iqaluit.
“However, a bonfire, which is a large fire, usually (using) a significant amount of wood, would indeed require a burn permit—even though the fire may reduce significantly in size over time, where it may then be used to cook food, such as hot dogs. A burn permit is required for the initial fire.”
A burn permit helps ensure that the fire department is aware of these larger fires, and doesn’t unnecessarily send firefighters out to them.
To obtain a permit—which is free—residents must go to the fire station and fill out an application. This form should then be signed by a member of the fire department.
Redfern said that the point of the public service announcement on burn permits was to ensure that everyone is on the same page about how small, traditional fires do not require a permit.
Now Lyta and her circle of women can make their tea fires without fear of discouragement.
“Long story short, we won,” Lyta said.