Rediscovering Resilience: Indigenous Societies' Survival Amidst Climate Change and Colonialism


Norine Holguin

5/9/20232 min read

books on shelves in library
books on shelves in library

In a groundbreaking research project, California State University, Northridge history professor Natale Zappia and a team of Swedish researchers are delving into the experiences of Indigenous communities in Southern California and Nordic Sápmi. The four-year study, supported by a $1.43 million grant from the Swedish Government Research Council for Sustainability, aims to shed light on how tribes like Chumash, Tataviam, Kiz-Tongva-Gabrieleno, and Kumeyaay, along with the Sámi people, have survived ongoing challenges posed by climate change and colonialism.

Preserving Narratives and Collaboration

Unlike conventional scientific research, this project takes an exploratory approach, focusing on narratives and direct collaboration with Indigenous communities. The project is being overseen by Professor Zappia, with active participation from members of the Chumash, Tataviam, Kiz-Tongva-Gabrieleno, and Kumeyaay tribes. These tribes have inhabited the diverse regions of Ventura, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties for thousands of years, demonstrating remarkable resilience in the face of adversity.

Thriving Despite Challenges

Despite enduring the devastating impacts of colonialism and environmental changes, these Indigenous communities are not only surviving but thriving. Their ecological knowledge continues to inform scientists and contribute to climate resiliency efforts. The research project aims to understand how these tribes adapted to the twin forces of colonialism and environmental changes.

Learning from Indigenous Practices

Drawing parallels between historic Indigenous practices and modern-day efforts to address climate change is a significant focus of the study. Native communities collaborate with institutions like Cal Fire and state agencies to employ traditional landscape burning, which has proven effective in preventing large-scale wildfires.

Building Bridges and Sharing Knowledge

The Swedish grant emphasizes building relationships with and supporting Native tribes through workshops, funding, and opportunities to discuss and exchange ideas about climate and environmental approaches. By incorporating native solutions into climate change responses, researchers hope to find answers to current challenges.

Connecting Past and Present

The LA Landscape History Project, in which members like Jesus Alvarez from the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians are involved, has a broader goal of connecting the past to the present. By mapping the ancient Los Angeles River and exploring the region's historical landscape, the project highlights the importance of understanding history as a framework for sustainability and climate change efforts.

The Importance of Cultural Preservation

Indigenous tribes' survival can be attributed to their adherence to traditional practices such as sustainable farming, forestry, and herding. Gathering acorns in the fall and employing managed farming and fishing techniques are just a few examples of enduring practices that go back thousands of years. These traditions not only contribute to their survival but also hold cultural significance.

Creating a Framework for Sustainability

Zappia emphasizes the necessity of preserving the cultural stories and frameworks that have sustained Indigenous communities throughout history. Sustainability and climate change efforts require a deeper understanding of Indigenous histories and cultures, as they play a crucial role in shaping approaches to conservation and environmental stewardship.


The collaborative research project between California State University, Northridge, and Swedish researchers aims to highlight the resilience and adaptive capabilities of Indigenous communities facing climate change and colonialism. By learning from and celebrating their traditions, we can incorporate native solutions into modern-day climate change responses and strengthen Indigenous claims for protecting fragile environments. The project demonstrates the profound interconnectedness between historical practices and sustainable practices, providing valuable insights into building a sustainable future for all.


Love, Marianne. “Indigenous Tribes Work with Swedish and CSUN Scholars to Thrive in California.” San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 26 Mar. 2023,

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