top of page

Summer Reflections from Climate Resilience Intern, Nizhoni Tallas

On today’s blog, we hear from Climate Resilience Intern Nizhoni Tallas, who spent the summer with the Climate Science Alliance team in San Diego. Thank you for everything, Nizhoni! We look forward to a lifelong partnership as you continue to grow in your career and community.

The following text has been adapted from the Final Report submitted by Nizhoni Tallas, as part of her Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) Student Summer Internship.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship and the opportunities I was given to experience working with other Tribal communities in Southern California. Climate Science Alliance (CSA) was so fun to work with because they were not only doing tons of community engagement but helped with building capacity for Tribal communities within the region. They worked collaboratively with Tribal communities to lead and create projects that help with climate change adaptation and education. As the Climate Resilience Intern I focused on working with the Tribal Working Group that included joining the monthly meeting, Native Plant Propagation meetings/events, and participating in outreach activities.

Weekly Tasks and Responsibilities

For the first week of my internship I participated in the 2022 Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit which was held in Pala, CA. That was an awesome experience and throughout the event I assisted the team with set up and was a facilitator for one of the talking circles. I thought it was a lot of fun and gave me time to get to know some of the community members and my fellow colleagues. The next couple of weeks I moved down to San Diego and got familiar with the Pacific Beach area. I was given the task to review the Climate Science Alliance webpage and conduct some background research on the Resilient Restoration Project that CSA have been working on and to see what areas I would like to contribute to. During those couple of weeks, I participated in team meetings every Tuesday and Thursday mornings which was a time where we each shared what each of us were doing and if we needed help with any of the projects we were working on. I was able to introduce myself to the other two team members who primarily worked remotely but focused on Tribal relationships and creating those connections to host events. As the conference wrapped up I worked on a survey to get feedback from attendees and to share the highlights from the Summit.

I was fortunate to attend one of the Native Plant Propagation trainings on the Temalpakh Farms where I helped with the set up and getting participants signed in. It was a one day training that involved showing participants the Temalpakh Farms and providing time for the Chairwoman of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians to talk about the current initiatives her community is taking in face of climate change impacts and their move to a more sustainable future. Along with this, I took notes throughout the day to ensure that the participants and team know what was discussed and to include it with the other training notes.

For the next few weeks of the internship I helped my supervisor with preliminary research on climate change, cultural burning and finding funding opportunities for Tribal communities. In the process of doing this research I started to gather material from the speakers and provided resources during the previous propagation trainings into a living Restoration Guide to be used as a reference for participants to easily have access too. In the Restoration Guide I made different categories such as nursery management, soil health, Traditional Plant Knowledge, etc. to help people navigate the document and find what they need. As for the cultural burning, I looked up best management practices and various methods Southwestern Tribal communities use to conduct their prescribed fires. Once completed, the Restoration Guide will be made available to participants and other Tribal communities in the future.

During the internship I attended a couple of conferences where I also learned about climate change and the work Tribal and Indigenous peoples are doing to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. The first one was attending the Climate Reality training that was held in Las Vegas, NV and was able to join with my Indige-FEWSS cohort from the University of Arizona who focus on food, energy and water systems. It was a great time learning from others and being able to hear Dr. Karletta Chief and Vice President Al Gore discuss the climate crisis and provide thoughtful solutions. The few days we were there, I got to meet some awesome Tribal leaders who were also sharing their thoughts on climate change and the impacts it's having on Tribal communities. I enhanced my knowledge by joining some breakout sessions on social media and storytelling initiatives to bring awareness to these issues. It was also great to listen to Nikki Cooley of ITEP talk about Indigneous Knowledge and the vital role it should play within climate work.

The middle of my internship I participated in the Tribal Working Group monthly meeting and gave a presentation sharing my research as a graduate student studying outdoor recreation management and the integration of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge. In summary, I provided opportunities to collaborate with others and ask how I can best serve the Tribal Working Group communities. The next couple of weeks we prepared to attend different Earth Days in Tribal communities. At the 2022 Cahuilla Gathering and Earth Day we shared about Climate Kids curriculum and activities on pollinators and the collaborations Climate Science Alliance has with the greater Tribal communities. I helped with set-up, speaking to kids, youth and community members, and helped with clean up for that day. The other Earth Day we participated in was in Pechanga where we shared about pollinators and provided activities and giveaways for community members to take home. I also helped with set up, clean up and took part in talking to community members about the Climate Science Alliance.

The second half of my internship I spent time working on a step-by-step guide to provide to Tribal members on the process to get approved to conduct a prescribed burn. This was interesting since I did not realize the amount of paperwork and approval needed to happen before a fire could occur on Tribal lands. Also during this time I transitioned to virtual working and moving back to Arizona. Working remotely as an intern provided me another opportunity to learn how to work effectively with my colleagues online and to still make progress on projects. I participated in a training at the Northern Arizona University where I learned about different data tools I can use and share with Tribal communities to work on complex environmental problems or even provide data to support Tribal systems.

During the next couple of weeks, I was able to do some field work with my team and took time to explore some of the National and State parks within the Southwest region. We looked at different posted signs and took photos to include in our research about how the National and state parks share information about Tribal communities. I also looked at how they were describing the landscape changes and how the warming climate could impact the plants and wildlife in the southwest.

For the next couple of weeks I continued to join staff meetings and meetings with my supervisor to make sure I’m staying on track with my tasks. I began to prepare for the National Tribal and Indigenous Climate Conference (NTICC) in St. Paul, Minnesota to share my internship experience and join my fellow colleagues at the conference. I continued working on my graduate research and at the same time produced a poster to share at NTICC and USGS Client Day at Northern Arizona University.

The last week went by in a flash by attending NTICC for the whole week. I’m grateful to have received support from NDN Collective and ITEP to attend the conference and to be selected as a young leader. During the conference I was able to listen and learn from amazing Indigenous leaders and presenters from across the U.S. I also met other youth from the U.S. and New Zealand who are doing some great climate work too. CSA had a table at the conference and I helped with set-up, sharing about CSA and take down. Overall, it was a wonderful week being with everyone and taking in the encouragement to continue doing climate change work. I’m happy that this conference concluded my internship with Climate Science Alliance.

Reflections and Looking Ahead

My growth as an individual improved a good amount compared to when I first moved down to San Diego. I became familiar with the San Diego area and got comfortable going out and exploring the city. I think this is where I grew the most, instead of being in a state or city I grew up going to with my family, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone. I became more independent as a learner and as a person during this internship which was helpful because I just finished my first year of graduate school. Compared to my first week, I have learned a tremendous amount about how to continue building relationships with Tribal communities and what that looks like from a non-profit standpoint. I was fortunate enough that Climate Science Alliance didn’t treat me as an intern but as part of the team, which has made me feel like the work I am doing will be used towards enhancing projects. In the past, I have been given jobs as an intern that were mostly busy work, and I did not gain much from those experiences, but this summer has been different and better in many ways. I appreciate the care that comes from everyone at Climate Science Alliance and the passion they bring to the office and outreach events.

During my time as an undergraduate and now as a graduate student, I have been thinking of ways to help my community back in the Navajo Nation. Working and gaining experience with the Climate Science Alliance has helped show what that may look like for an organization with similar goals of building capacity for Tribal communities. Attending meetings, discussing grant writing, and engaging in outreach work has inspired me to continue envisioning a future that includes the creation of an organization that provides resources to develop community initiatives and has an entire Tribal staff.

I’m thankful to have lived in San Diego and the opportunity to work in the office daily with the team. The consistent learning of community building and creating meaningful connections with Tribal communities has taught me a lot about what I should keep in mind in my future career. By being part of the monthly Tribal Working Group meetings, I experienced firsthand the impact Climate Science Alliance has on bringing Tribal communities together. I’m thankful for this opportunity and for gaining valuable insights and skills. Also, for the numerous connections and friendships I have made through Climate Science Alliance. It was helpful to see how these meetings are organized and how to communicate with partners and as a team effectively.

The assignments that were given to me over the course of the summer provided me the opportunity to learn more about the Southern California Tribes and engage in outreach activities. I felt like the assignments were thought out and allowed me to share my opinions and thoughts. I fully enjoyed participating in the Tribal meetings, Earth Day events, and joining meetings with Climate Science Alliance partners. I learned a great deal from my colleagues and I was able to share my experiences by producing a poster on the Tribal Working Group framework.

Overall, my time with Climate Science Alliance has been wonderful all around and taught me numerous things about keeping up with partners, using technology to benefit the progress of projects, and being present at all times. I’m glad to have formed friendships with my co-workers and met so many influential Tribal members across Southern California. Thank you to everyone at ITEP, Climate Science Alliance and the Bay and Paul Foundation for making this internship possible and providing me with the resources to gain the full experience.

bottom of page