Firesticks: The Role of Women in Cultural Burning

By Colleen Raven
June 13, 2024
July 9, 2024
Last Updated
June 17, 2024
Written by
Rachel Steffensen
Written by
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Firesticks’ Rachel Steffensen answers Common Ground’s burning questions on caring for Country through cultural burning.

A few weeks ago, Firesticks People and Partnerships Manager, Rachel Steffensen, along with more than 100 other First Nations women, descended upon Kaurna Country for the National Women's Fire Workshop.

The event was an opportunity for First Nations women to gather and discuss cultural burning practices, as well as uplift and support each other.
Rachel told us more about the role women play in caring for Country and community.

Tell us about yourself, your mob, and what brought you to cultural burning and Firesticks?

Rachel Steffensen: My name is Rachel Steffensen. I am a descendant of the Tagalaka people from the Gulf country in Far North Queensland and my mothers lineage is from Darnley Island in the Torres Straits.

I was very fortunate at a young age to have grown up rich in culture and was able to learn from my father (Firesticks Co-founder Victor Steffensen), so I always knew what Cultural Burning was.

I remember watching my dad burn Country and I would sit and watch him walk in the cool flames with the birds circling above. Those are my best memories; that connection to land. Working at Firesticks has been a life calling for me since such a young age.

Coming from eight years working in a corporate setting, working for an Indigenous-led not-for-profit was definitely a calling I had to listen to. There's nothing better than working alongside the community and your own people.

A smoking ceremony kicked off the event. By Colleen Raven

In your experience, what is women's role in caring for Country?

RS: While it's true that women play a significant role in nurturing and caring for families and children, it's important to recognise that their roles and contributions extend far beyond that – especially on Country with fire and other cultural responsibilities.

That's why it  was so important that we held the National Women's Fire Workshop this year on Kaurna Country. We wanted to provide opportunities for Indigenous women to learn, be inspired and connect with other women around Australia in land management.

Sometimes these spaces can be male dominated, and not for the wrong reasons, but because of the family obligation women have to their children and families take priority. 

Katrina Power at the National Women's Fire Workshop. By Colleen Raven

What happens when women aren't part of these processes? 

RS: What I see when women aren't actively a part of the process of looking after Country and practising their cultural birthright is not only they miss out, but our children who are at home or wherever they may be with their mothers are also missing out.

And that's really sad to think about. Our cultural obligation has always been to teach the next generation and to do that we must get mothers, sisters and aunties on Country and foster the space for kids to be involved too.

There were plenty of yarns around the fire at the National Women's Fire Workshop. By Colleen Raven

What was your highlight of the event?

RS: The highlight was seeing 100 Blak women in one space – yarning, laughing, storytelling and sharing cultural exchanges. This is what it's all about for me, connecting with people on a national scale to share experiences and to stay connected in the women's fire network so we can continue to support and advocate for women on Country.

The event was an opportunity to gather and compare notes, stories and knowledges. By Colleen Raven

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