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  • Indigenous Approaches to Climate ResilienceA Roundtable Discussion with the Digital Environmental Humanities Lab
  • Stevie Ruiz, Michelle Aranda Coss, Jesus Jimenez, and Renée Martínez


The Digital Environmental Humanities Lab looks like any ordinary computer lab, with students huddled next to their laptops. In spring 2017, undergraduate students in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge, met once per week to discuss and code archival materials. Students were invested in analyzing debates over natural resources management, American Indian land sovereignty, and Japanese American internment. In this lab, each student coded archival information using mind maps in order to document the detention and internment of Japanese Americans at the Colorado River Indian Reservation during World War II.

In this roundtable discussion, lab participants and their professor share the historical significance of Japanese American internment, its intersections with American Indian land, and water sovereignty. Lab participants talk about the rich and innovative ways in which undergraduate students can participate in research projects and assist in the data visualization information. In this lab, participants used mind maps. Mind mapping is a digital tool that enables students to code data about a selected topic in order to make it easily accessible and visually interactive. Lab participants express that mind maps are visually [End Page 45] amenable to reach diverse audiences who otherwise may not have access to topical studies about environmental injustice such as the ones that took place at the Colorado River Indian Reservation. It is our hope that our collaboration will inspire other faculty to invest more time and allocate resources for undergraduates to become involved in research.

Our collaboration used mind maps because it allowed participants to share information using digital platforms, edit each other’s mind maps, and share the labor of coding archival information. Students in this lab met once a week as they read documents that were scanned by their professor at the National Archives in Washington, DC. We viewed coding as one step in the process to code data, but we also wanted to make the procedure of coding nonlinear and allow undergraduates to pick topics that stood out to them in individual research materials. For example, some students used mind maps to highlight patterns that they read in archival documents related to environmental sustainability, climate justice, and water shortage at the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

In our roundtable, students argue that mind maps allowed them to visually connect different federal institutions and state actors, as well as American Indian tribes who shaped the contours of environmental sustainability at the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Each of the students were formally enrolled in the professor’s environmental justice courses but always expressed sincere desire to know more about cross-cultural exchanges between American Indians and immigrant communities within an environmental justice framing. According to each student, mind maps allowed them the flexibility and creativity to connect environmental themes in creative ways in order to draw on the intersections between race, capitalism, colonialism, climate resilience, and Native sovereignty. This was significant because the interdisciplinary nature of mind maps allowed students to detach themselves from telling a traditional historical narrative that unfolded chronologically. Mind maps provided students with the visual platform to transgress the unfolding of time in a linear fashion. Instead, students focused on the types of racial and colonial processes that transformed the archival information into a living story told by the students using mind maps.

Environmental historians have neglected to center American Indian land sovereignty as a central issue over the debate for natural resources. In the archives studied by lab participants, we recovered detailed information about the disputes between the US federal government and the [End Page 46] Chemehuevi, Mojave, Navajo, and Hopi over the control of land sovereignty. Japanese American internment provoked significant environmental concerns among American Indian elders. First, elders believed that Japanese American internment was overtly racist and xenophobic, as well as related to ongoing land colonization conducted by the US federal government. The US Bureau of Indian Affairs and War Relocation Authority shard that Japanese American internees were beneficial because they possessed technical skills in desert farming. Indeed, US authorities viewed Japanese American internment as...


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pp. 45-64
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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