Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Pennesi, Karen.


This research contributes to the anthropology of disaster, offering an ethnographic account of the impact of wildfire on Indigenous people in northern Alberta. The vulnerability created by remote environmental locations is increased by social, historical, and economic circumstances. Based on ethnographic data including participant observation and interviews collected over 3 months of fieldwork in the summer of 2019, I argue that colonialism, assimilation policies, racism and structural violence increase vulnerability of Indigenous people and communities to the impacts of wildfire. By looking at wildfire situations holistically this study supports arguments for decolonization and other policy changes that would reduce the vulnerability of Indigenous people in remote areas to disasters. There are also lessons learned, that I have detailed about research with Indigenous people that are of value to other prospective researchers.

Summary for Lay Audience

This research is an account of the impact that wildfire has on Indigenous people in northern Alberta. Wildfires are becoming increasingly common in Alberta and pose a risk to many communities situated in the boreal forest. Indigenous communities are at a higher risk due to their remote location in heavily forested areas. In combination with environmental risk, social, historical and economic factors play a role in the increased vulnerability of Indigenous people to wildfire. The data collected for this research was gathered over 3 months in the summer of 2019. I argue that colonialism, policies of assimilation, racism, and structural violence increase the vulnerability of Indigenous people and communities to the impacts of wildfire. I also detail lesson learned that will aid other researchers who wish to conduct research with Indigenous people and communities.