Daria Burnasheva

Indigenous women as water protectors, men as firefighters – this paper contributes to the understanding of gender and indigeneity in the context of climate change by looking at what is underneath this established dichotomy. In the last decades, Sakha (Yakutia) in northeast Russia has literally gone through fire and water. The devastating floods and wildfires have caused not only economic and environmental losses but most importantly, social and cultural consequences. However, this paper does not intend to look at the vulnerability, adaptability, and resilience of Indigenous communities in the face of climate change and related disasters. Instead, it attempts to understand what has shaped the existing power relations, strengthened social inequalities and their gendered dynamics in this particular context. As an Indigenous feminist, I approach these issues from Sakha Indigenous paradigm. In Sakhaspeaking rural communities, we still call ourselves people of woods and we refer to big water bodies as our grandmothers. This particular ontological viewpoint has been a methodological suggestion for my research and defined the specific way the analysis has been conducted. As a result, I claim that an entire shift in paradigm is needed in order to adequately address the climate change impacts such as wildfires. We should think not only about fighting wildfires but also about protecting forests, which will shift our perspective from what to fight to what to protect. In academic research, shifting the subject of study can raise novel research questions and opportunities for new critical analysis. Addressing the root causes of the wildfires will mean not only fighting its consequences but preventing this disaster. Finally, in the Indigenous feminist paradigms, protecting waters and forests means taking care of our human and other-than-human relations and, on a greater scale, our ways-of-being in this world.

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