‘Face to Face’: Fighting Fire With Fire

Deniss Martinez and Chancellor Gary S. May pose for a photo in a recording studio.
Deniss Martinez, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology, is this month’s guest on “Face to Face With Chancellor May.” (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Watching and participating in Indigenous cultural burns not only teaches a way of forest management, but the process can also help in peoples healing from the trauma of fire, say, the loss of a home or worse, Ph.D. candidate Deniss Martinez said on this month’s edition of Face to Face With Chancellor May.

Purple graphic with text "Face to Face with Chancellor May"

“People are aware of that [trauma] and are able to kind of heal their relationship with fire and feel empowered and held through handling fire in a different way,” Martinez said.

Martinez — who studies Indigenous forest and fire stewardship — said she grew up in an area where fires were common, and was afraid of fire as a result. But she later dug into her own identity as a person of Mexican and Tutunaku tribal heritage, and was inspired by tales of resiliency to look at her situation in a different way. She also spent time, as an undergraduate at UC Davis, seeing forest management — including cultural burns — up close with members of the Karuk Tribe.

She now helps to expose students to cultural burns through “Keepers of the Flame,” a Native American studies course that was first taught in 2019.

Watch her full interview with Chancellor May in the video above — or listen to an audio-only version in your podcast player of choice — to hear more about how that course works and what she hopes students take away from it.

She and May also discussed the way her work led to a recent President's Award for Outstanding Student Leadership from the UC Office of the President, and the faculty member whom Martinez thinks should be a guest on Face to Face. The chancellor offered career advice for Martinez as she nears the completion of her third UC Davis degree.

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Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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