On July 29, 2021, Li Boyd woke up to the smell of smoke. It was her birthday — she was turning 38 — and she had rented a boat to take her parents and aunts out on the lake near her home in central Minnesota, about 90 minutes north of the Twin Cities. But that morning, when she looked outside her window and found a thick, yellow-gray haze, she figured it was best to avoid going outside. Her older family members all had respiratory issues, and as the day went on and the smoke grew thicker, she worried about how it would affect them. They celebrated in her house, sealing the windows as tightly as they could.
Boyd is a member of the federally recognized Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. That day, her government sent out alerts through Facebook, email, and text message, warning citizens to stay indoors and close their windows. Youth programs were canceled, and public employees were told to go home. The smoke was “so intense,” Boyd said, that her aunt called the police in a panic to report that something was on fire.
It was Canada, they told her; wildfires burning in nearby Alberta had sent a column of smoke south into Minnesota, where it reach... Read more