Preserving nature by burning it down at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung (Manitou Mounds) conducted a regular prescribed burn on Wednesday, May 3. The historical centre does this on a regular basis to preserve the delicate ecosystem in the area.

The area around the Manitou Mounds Historical Centre is considered an oak savanna says site manager Jim Leonard. According to, a savanna is generally an area where grasses and other plants, rather than trees, make up the primary vegetation. In this case, the trees, while lesser in density, are mostly oak trees. One defining feature of a savanna is how open the canopy is.

According to Leonard, the area, which contains sacred Anishinaabe burial mounds, has been receiving prescribed burns for thousands of years from the Indigenous peoples who lived on the land.

“What our ancestors did, for thousands of years is they burned all through here,” Leonard told the group of volunteers gathered to assist with the controlled burn. “Only the oak survived. Amongst the clumps of trees all through, the plant life is so diverse.”

The burn was planned and conducted by a local company, with assistance from members of the Rainy River First Nations community. A local crew of Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) forest fire rangers was also on hand to assist. 

“A couple of years ago we had a biologist here from Kentucky and he found a plant here that only grows in Kentucky,” Leonard said. “Through trading I guess seeds were dropped and I guess burning every year helps sustain that.”

The burns knock down undesirable plants like poplar saplings, and can also can help save the land in the event of a forest fire.

“Prescribed burns are discouraged now so you get a lot of build up of dead and drier stuff, so when a fire hits, everything goes,” Leonard said. “By doing it this way you don’t get the big fires because there’s no undergrowth to burn.” 

Leonard is hoping to put together a long-term plan for prescribed burns around the property. This year’s was the first since 2021 as the pandemic had put a dent in past work. 

“I was talking with John Van den Broeck at MNR two weeks ago, and he said when the fur traders came through here in the 1800s, the oak savanna at the mounds was up to a mile in circumference, and there was a survey done in the late ‘50s and it was considerably smaller. He said from the late ‘50s to today, it’s even smaller, so we have to get at it and work away at it and try to increase the size every year,” Leonard said. “My dream in the future — 20, 30, 40 years from now is that this will all be back to the original savanna.”