To celebrate Native American Heritage Month and bolster wildfire resiliency efforts, a group of University of Oregon students and alums are working with local Indigenous fire practitioners on a fun-for-all approach to fundraising: basketball.
The group is turning one of its favorite hobbies into social good by organizing Oregon’s first Wildfire Resilience Hoop-A-Thon on Nov. 19. The event takes place at the UO’s McArthur Court with the goal of raising $100,000 for workforce development and wildfire resilience efforts around the state.
But no matter the outcome, the organizers said they hope to bring the community together. Community members and businesses are invited to shoot hoops, set up tables at the event, become a sponsor or make a donation.
Participants will have 60 seconds to sink as many free throws as they can. Individuals, businesses and organizations sponsor the event with donations and free-throw pledges, so players can raise money with every shot. Each tax-deductible donation helps provide young people with fire gear, jobs and opportunities to make a difference in fire and landscape management.
Among the organizations and artisans with tables at the event are the Lomakatsi Restoration Project; Oregon Conservation Corps; UO Native American Student Union; the Wagon Burners; Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology; Stacia Henry Jewelry; and more.
The Hoop-A-Thon will benefit three organizations in Oregon. One, the Oregon Conservation Corps, funds crews in communities across the state, helping protect more than 1,000 homes and businesses from wildfire risk while providing hundreds of young people with jobs and training.
“Growing up in a rural town, I saw firsthand the toll wildfires had on the community,” co-organizer and student Danté James said. “It is important that we take action now and build bridges between underrepresented groups and future generations.”
A second group, The Wagon Burners, is an all-Indigenous burn crew helping restore Indigenous communities’ long relationship with “good fire” while also caring for the land. So far, the group has helped return safe and healthy fire to more than 675 acres through ecocultural and prescribed burns, worked with several tribes to return good fire to their homeland landscapes, and created defensible space around structures and places important to tribal communities.
“Fire is step zero in creating a relationship with the land,” said Jae Viles, a co-organizer and member of the Wagon Burners crew.
The third group, FireGeneration Collaborative, is directed by university alumnus Ryan Reed, who graduated in 2021. The group focuses on connecting young people to fire policy and finding solutions for an aging workforce, Indigenous rights and fire education. Through FireGeneration, Reed was appointed as one of the youngest federal advisers in U.S. history.
“Our generation needs pathways for resilience so we can live with fire on the landscape,” said Kyle Trefny, a wildland firefighter, FireGeneration researcher and economics student at the UO. “We face hotter and drier times ahead, but by preparing proactively we can be ready for both wildfires and the prescribed and cultural burning we need on the land.”
The youth are partnering with local nonprofit Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, directed by UO sociology research associate Tim Ingalsbee, to distribute the funds to the three groups and ensure donations are tax deductible.
Information for getting involved, donating and sponsoring can be found on the Wildfire Resilience Hoop-A-Thon website.