Traditional ceremony helps Yukon First Nations firefighters heading to Australia

Kwanlin Dun First Nation councillor Sean Smith led Elijah Smith Elementary School students in drumming and singing the Fire Song Tuesday afternoon — a fitting send-off for two Yukon First Nations Wildfire firefighters heading across the world to help those in need. 

Chad Thomas and Jordan Profeit head to Australia Wednesday to help fight the bush fires that are devastating the country. Although the pair have fought wildfires across Canada and the United States, it's the first time they have left North America to fight fires.

Tuesday's send off included gifts of traditional medicine, like tobacco, devil's club, cedar and sweetgrass, to help them on their journey.

"I'm going to pass this on to Chad and to Jordan so they can gift it or use it on their sacred journey to Australia," said Jacqueline Shorty from Tahltan Strong, a volunteer group formed to help those displaced after the Telegraph Creek fires in northern B.C. in 2018.

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Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek told the students Thomas and Profeit are living what First Nations elders teach. 

"Because as we know ... when someone asks you for help, what do you do?" Adamek asks.

"You help them!," the students yell back. 

The firefighters also answered questions from students. One girl asked the pair when they don't want to go fight fires."

"That's a really good question," said Thomas. "Because sometimes when you're out there and you're fighting the fire, it just blows up and it's so crazy and you get so scared and you can't go in to fight the fire because it's too crazy."

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"So if the fire blows up and it gets too aggressive, it's our job to make sure that we get people out of an area and out to a safe area and once the fire calms down we get back in there."

That's something Thomas and Profeit could encounter when they arrive in New South Wales, where over a hundred bush fires are still burning.

Grade 6 student Connor Wiltse says he thinks what Thomas and Profeit are doing is pretty brave.

"It was pretty cool knowing that two people that are from here are going to Australia. It's pretty cool to know that they are representing us well and are going to contribute to stop it," said grade 6 student Mechkayla Fred.

For Thomas, he says it's humbling. Part of his preparations means getting into the right mindset.

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"I mean there's going to be a lot of people displaced from their homes, there's going to be a lot of people stressed out and going through a volatile situation so I think it's about going down there and representing ourselves properly, representing Yukon properly.  

Thomas says their planned a week and a half stay could stretch longer, if they're needed and asked to help.