In this episode listeners will hear from the Executive Director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, Nicole Lim, and Program Specialist Carol Oliva. Both will share about their work to address the impacts of climate change and racial inequity on communities in the state of California.
The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center (CIMCC) serves American Indians in Santa Rosa, CA. CIMCC created a community- participatory project to document climate vulnerabilities faced by Native peoples in Santa Rosa. CIMCC has developed and administered a community questionnaire about climate impacts and solutions, organized community meetings, analyzed information gathered, and created a report to share with community stakeholders. This report provides CIMCC with the information they need to advance the priorities of the Native community in Santa Rosa. Through the collected data, CIMCC evaluates how the community can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impact of climate change. CIMCC integrates community needs into local planning by participation in policy design and development in Sonoma County. CIMCC also facilitates solar workshops within the Santa Rosa Native communities to explain the benefits and permits needed for solar panel installations to increase renewable electricity. Solar installations will allow residents to reduce their utility bills and provide a path forward to financial resilience and climate resilience during power outages, leading to the ability to stay cool during climate emergencies. CIMCC is a resilience hub and operates as an emergency shelter to the community during climate emergencies.
Nicole Lim [00:00:00] My full name is Nicole Cundera Lim. I am from Sonoma County, California. Raised in my ancestral territory, home to the Miwok and Pomo people and I currently live in that area. I live in Windsor, California. I got involved in this work pretty much since birth. I was born into a family that has worked and multi-generations of different issues around tribal justice. And my father started a nonprofit in 1983 called the National Indian Justice Center, and I grew up around tribal lawyers and traveling with him and visiting all areas of Indian country and meeting people and seeing the issues. And when I went to undergrad at UC Berkeley in the 1990s, I studied peace and conflict studies and eventually went on to law school at the University…University of San Francisco. And one of the things that I discovered when I was studying constitutional law was that a lot of the bias a lot of the cases were decided based on bias, racial bias that the judges have related to a lack of understanding of Indian values, cosmology, culture. And so I really thought that it was really critical to focus my career on education and work towards changing the hearts and minds of people in the classroom so that before, by the time that our issue would get to the courtroom, they could be decided fairly. And so I’ve done a lot of work around teaching Native American studies, teaching federal Indian law. The museum focuses quite a bit on K through 12 education. It’s really critical in our state of California that there’s truth and authenticity in how our history is taught. And unfortunately, right now our two waves of genocide through Spanish missions, and the gold rush are both taught in the fourth grade, and they’re not really taught in a way that teaches people how to not repeat the mistakes of the past. And so I have been very focused on working towards educating the public and reducing the stereotypes and misinformation that our Native American students are exposed to in the classroom. And so I think justice is just really part of my DNA. I am the youngest of eight children, and my dad was sent on the relocation program that happened in the 50s to move Indians off reservations and into the inner cities. And he went to San Francisco and studied criminal justice and eventually became a California highway patrolman and an Oakland police officer. And when he was working, he really experienced discrimination and saw how the law discriminated against people of color, and he decided to become an attorney and work for justice for native people. And so… education changed our life. It created so many opportunities for our family, but it also raised the bar for successive generations. And it’s really critical because, you know, we weren’t meant to be educated. The colonial system put us in boarding schools, but it wasn’t for the purposes of success or thriving. It was for the purposes of servitude. And those were the things that were taught to native people. And so being able to participate in the educational system and come out and work on policies and creating structural shifts and change is something that I saw my father do and something that you know, I dedicate my life towards now because I feel like it carries on his legacy.
Carol Oliva [00:04:31] My full name is Carol Oliva. I’m from the East Coast, from Connecticut, and I currently live in Forks, Washington, near the territory. I should say on the territory of the Quileute nation. I got involved in this work like Nikki through my family. My family is originally from Italy, immigrated here in the early 1900s and came with strong values for the land. For the interconnectedness of all things, for taking care of each other and taking care of the planet, my social justice consciousness was developed as part of my dad, who was also a lawyer. He went to Yale Law School and that was in the early 60s during the civil rights movement. He was very active in social justice at that time, and he always brought home news and teachings of what was going on and generated in the family. And awareness of social justice that then led me to also go to college. Study politics. Not with the track of being a lawyer, but being involved in women’s issues and international issues. I took a trip across the country from the East Coast and ended up in..here where I am in Washington state and began working for a native tribe. Now my work with the tribe led me to get a job with the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in the future and through my constant exposure to these amazing social justice leaders that I work with.
Nicole Lim [00:06:18] Our organization as the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, and our vision is really to educate the public about history and culture of California native people from our own perspective. We seek to elevate native voices and really work towards kind of changing narratives, changing false narratives, decolonizing museums, decolonizing education and working with native youth to create resources, but also to prepare them for the challenges they’re going to seek for the future. You know, people often say that we’re working towards training tomorrow’s leaders, and I don’t always agree with that because they’re leading today, but they’re going to have some tremendous challenges that they’re going to face. And so giving them the skills and tools and resources to combat racism and discrimination where they find it is a real passion of ours. And growing up in Sonoma County and having a generation of grandparents that went through that assimilation era, that boarding school era that were stripped of their culture and their language. I didn’t always have a place to go to ask questions, and I knew that sometimes asking them those questions directly was…was painful. I really felt that it was critical that we create a place for native youth so that they have the opportunity to do the research, learn about their culture and find ways to work towards revitalizing it. This is our ancestral territory. We’ve been here since time immemorial. We don’t plan on going anywhere. We want our native youth to feel connected, but also to have the capacity to…to advocate on behalf of our people in our land. Our main issue has been wildfires since 2017. We’ve experienced multiple wildfires. We’ve lost thousands of structures, and, you know, our last fire that came through two years ago burned seventy-five thousand acres of our ancestral territory. Fire is not a negative thing for native people. We’ve been doing indigenous fire ecology and controlled burning for a long time, and the fire can have really important benefits to the plants and the trees and bring nutrients and…and renewal. But the wildfires that we’re experiencing aren’t the kind of fires that are good. They, you know, they wreak havoc and everything in their path. And we know that…that the land will bounce back. The fires are also very traumatic to our people and our community. We’ve been really working on how we can respond, how we can create resiliency within our community, how we can ensure that there is more of an equitable distribution of resources for our native people, that they have a community partner, that they can come to that they trust is very critical. In 2017 our museum was on the border of the Tubbs Fire. We didn’t know if the building was still standing for several days. And when we did get access back to the building. Our parking lot was full, and it was because neighbors who had been displaced basically parked there and wanted to stay close to the fire zone in order and in case it opened up and they could go back and see if their homes were still there. And so just by proximity to the fire, and we kind of became a natural resource for folks in terms of passing out water bottles and making sure that pets had drinking water and…and doing what we could for the community at the time. And so with the successive fires, we’ve really been focused on how we can create resources for our community, but how we can also address healing. And we have a program called Healing through cultural arts that we’ve been doing throughout ever since 2017. So throughout wildfires, but also the pandemic, it’s been a really important program. We’ve had to do it over Zoom, but it’s been really critical to be able to bring our community members together and work on cultural arts projects and be able to create an opportunity for sharing and processing. You know, the things that have happened in these past years, whether it was trauma from the fire or grief from the pandemic. This has been a really important opportunity to sustain cultural learning, but also to promote healing among our people. You know, people of color are more are more impacted by the negative consequences of climate change. So we have to play a role in advocating against and mitigating it because it’s our communities that…that will feel the…the challenges first. And so I think that’s really critical. But more than that, we have traditional ecological knowledge that can benefit how we address climate change, just like the fire ecology, we’ve known how to care for this landscape since time immemorial. And you know, a lot of people during the…the..the Tubbs fire, they packed up and moved. They said, “We don’t want to live here anymore”, and that’s not an option that I have as a native person. This is my sacred landscape. This is where I belong to you. This is where my future generations belong to. So I have to stay and care for it. And so I think it’s really critical that people of color have a voice in the future and how we combat climate change. Often as native people, we’re kind of trivialized. We’re, you know, I always say we’re invited to do a prayer or do a ceremony, but we’re not invited to the boardroom and making decisions for our future. And…as we have that connection to land, as people of color have that connection to land and that knowledge of how to care for the land. People need to listen. And we can’t just be marginalized and suffer the brunt of climate change. We have to engage in an active role in how we mitigate it.
Carol Oliva [00:13:32] I believe that the role of an ally is to listen and listen profoundly. And to get your ego out of the way in your solutions, out of the way, and really hear what people of color are saying, what their solutions are, what their innovations are, and then to ask “How can I support you?” Not to make assumptions about how you can support those solutions and innovations. But to really just humble yourself. And to be supportive. I would say one of the biggest challenges, not just over the last year, but consistently, has been the lack of data that is available to decision makers about the needs of native peoples. CIMCC has done a lot of work in generating new data for decision-making purposes. We’re operating now in an environment that’s very, very data driven and evidence driven, both among funders and among policymakers. And so if you’re not seeing the health data and the health disparities as they really are because Native peoples have are invisible or…or erased in the data, then you don’t know the needs. A decision maker needs to know that you know what the asthma rates are in native communities, because then, you know, wildfires impact those health issues. And you know, then what are the…the, you know, the solutions that are brought to bear in the community for everybody so that everyone can have equity and not just groups of people that are represented in data? I think that our successes have just been tremendous. I mean, we’ve had to ramp ourselves up in learning about alternative energies, the intricacies around solar development, solar plus battery storage and infrastructure issues that will affect us into the future in both our building and for the communities that we’re serving. So we’ve been very fortunate to be working with other organizations and technical assistance providers and to be part of a network with the partnership for resilient communities to be able to come together and share our practices and lessons learned around infrastructure, green technologies, alternative energies.
Nicole Lim [00:16:23] So we really assess what the variety of impacts have been on our community and how we could roll that into our infrastructure in order to be able to assist people and meet their needs during times of crisis. We don’t know what the future holds. You know there could be a flood. We live on the Russian river watershed. There could be a tsunami. There are so many different realms of possibilities. It’s…you can’t plan for every disaster. But based on your experience, you can discover what is needed during that time and how we can prepare better in case it happens again. What advice would you give to my earlier self? I usually joke and say, “Take your vitamins” because it’s going to be the wheels of change, move very slowly. Make sure you get in your 20 minutes of exercise a day, 20 to 30. I would tell my younger self to reach out and create partnerships and listen to the folks who have the expertise to incorporate your tribal community, to talk to them, to prioritize the things that are concerning to them, and to share as many resources as possible. But I think partnership is really key. This is work that can’t be done in isolation, and we have been really strategic in building tribal community partners. But we also have to reach across the aisle to our non-tribal community partners. And that can be difficult because it takes educating those partners so that you can be on the same page. And because a lot of people aren’t familiar with our tribal community, having to educate your partner before you can engage in that reciprocal relationship sometimes becomes exhausting. So, so I’d advise young Nicole to keep taking those vitamins and…and buckle up because it’s been a wild ride, and I don’t think I’m getting off the roller coaster anytime soon.
Carol Oliva [00:18:48] What advice would I give earlier, Carol? Well, set your idealism aside and listen to the people that are impacted by the issues. And like Nicole said, take your vitamins. One thing I learned from her dad, Joe Myers, is that this work takes a lot of tenacity. You cannot give up. You just have to keep going. And that takes self-care. It takes collective self-care and it just takes, you know, repositioning yourself all the time to be in the moment and to meet the moment as it comes up. Because, you know, Nicole will attest to this, the moment comes up a lot when we’re in, you know, in trying to educate the wider community about the work. There’s always that moment that arises where you’re confronted with disbelief, you’re confronted with denial, you’re confronted with, you know, stereotypes. And personally, you know, I don’t…I just think that, you know, every time that happens, I just go, “Wow, how do they keep answering the same questions over and over and not get completely frustrated?” And it is tiring that and you have to just keep chipping away at it. And the idealism I think of allies is that suddenly these things are just going to change. And, you know, it’s the very, very, very hard work of the people that we’re working with and to honor that work that they’re doing is incredibly important.
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