Tribal Programs, Initiatives and Collaborations

San Diego County has the largest number of tribal governments and reservations in the United States with 18 tribal reservations and four tribal nations - the Kumeyaay, Luiseno, Cupeno, and Cahuilla - represented across the County. SDSU has a long tradition of programs, initiatives and collaborations with tribes and these tribal partnerships continue to provide a foundation for the relationship between SDSU and tribal communities to develop and flourish.

In 2019, the SDSU University Senate adopted an official Kumeyaay Land Acknowledgment, "a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of a given geographic area and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their ancestral territories."

Here we share brief descriptions of the recent and ongoing projects led by tribal partners and SDSU faculty and students. To learn more about these projects and initiatives, project leads or program websites are listed below.  To continue building collaborations with Tribal Communities, submit your program, initiative, or project HERE.

Impact of Nonsmoking Constraints on Tribal Casino Operations

This project, funded by the California Tobacco Control Program and in partnership with a collective of California tribes and led by Dr. David Kamper in the American Indian Studies Department, considers how smoking policies may  impact economic development and success of tribal gaming, adopting a multi-site, and longitudinal analytical approach. Dr. Katherine Spilde, Chair of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming in the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management,  is a co-Principal Investigator and Dr. Olivia Chilcote, American Indian Studies, is a Researcher on this project.

Bachelor degree in Tribal Gaming

SDSU offers an undergraduate degree program in Hospitality & Tourism Management with an emphasis in tribal gaming, under the leadership of Dr. Katherine SpildeStudents focus on the cultural and political contexts of tribal government gaming, learn tribal casino operations management, study the unique legal and regulatory issues related to tribal gaming and explore the relationship between marketing and public relations in tribal gaming. Interested students can also access the entire program through a Certificate in Tribal Casino Operations Management, available through Open University Certificate program 

Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming

A collaboration between the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at SDSU, the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming produces and funds original academic research related to the legal gambling industry with an emphasis on tribal government gaming. The Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Katherine Spilde, actively engages students, faculty, and industry partners in order to cultivate a professional workforce, develop and document best practices, and share successful gaming innovations.

Model of Indigenous Diversity and Inclusion 

Created in 2020 in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, under the leadership of Jacob Alvarado Waipuk, the Chair of Tribal Relations, Tribal Liaison, SDSU is pioneering a Model of Indigenous Diversity and Inclusion.  This innovative model strives to ensure that SDSU, as an inclusive, culturally-responsive environment for students, faculty, staff, and alumni of all backgrounds and identities, cultivates a safe, nurturing, and empowering support system and a sense of belonging for Indigenous students, faculty, staff and alumni. The Model focuses on four centralized goals needed for Indigenous students to thrive: enhanced educational pathways and opportunities, advanced tribal connections and partnerships, increased Indigenous representation in faculty and staff, and increased Indigenous student recruitment, retention and graduation. 

American Indian Recruitment (AIR) Program

Created in 1993, in partnership with the Dept. of American Indian Studies and its American Indian Community Advisory Committee, AIR Program founders established the American Indian Recruitment (AIR) Programs to promote higher education and success in academics in the American Indian community. The AIR Programs, a nonprofit organization under the leadership of Dwight K. Lomayesva, is dedicated to culturally integrated supplemental educational instruction through tutoring, mentoring, and various activities designed to achieve success within high school and higher education. AIR has worked with numerous universities and Tribal governments and organizations over its 27 years of service, including partnerships with San Diego State University, the University of California, San Diego, University of San Diego, California State University, San Marcos, and Palomar and Cuyamaca Community Colleges. Numerous Tribal education centers, urban Indian centers and the Intertribal Court of Southern California are just some of the many other entities AIR enjoys community partnerships with. AIR’s mission is the promotion and success of American Indians within education.

Teaching for Sustainable Communities

With funding from California Global Education Project, Ten Strands, and the DiCaprio Foundation, SDSU’s College of Education runs the Teaching for Sustainabl e Communities professional development program for K-12 teachers on sustainability, global competence, and student agency. The year-long program begins with a summer institute, continues during the school year with follow-up meetings and local support (field study, webinars, coaching), and culminates with a student exhibition of learning and action projects. Designed for interdisciplinary studies and teaching of environmental literacy and global competence, teachers examine sustainable communities with social, economic, and ecological diversity, with content and resources tailored to the group’s needs while focusing on strategies for equity and engagement for all students.

Tribal STAR

Tribal STAR is a training and technical assistance program of the Academy for Professional Excellence, run by the SDSU School of Social Work, designed to ensure culture, community, and resources for Indian children in child welfare and promote compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Tribal STAR, under the leadership of Kim Mettler, focuses on building collaborations that improve outcomes for American Indian/Alaska Native children in child welfare. The program provides training to child welfare social workers, court personnel, attorneys, judges, tribes, Indian services agencies, and ICWA advocates.

Native American and Indigenous Scholars Collaborative

The Native American and Indigenous Scholars Project (SHPA), run through SDSU’s Department of Counseling and School Psychology , is designed to help reduce the profound gap in the numbers of school counselors and school psychologists appropriately trained to respond to the needs of Native American and Indigenous youth served in schools. The SHPA Project, under the leadership of Drs. Carol Robinson-Zañartu and Katheryne Leigh-Osroosh, provides an inter-professional cohort model, mentors and collaborators, Indigenous models, readings, an ongoing specialty seminar, and supervised collaborative clinical experiences local with Indigenous youth and communities. In addition, students receive significant financial support, and participate in conferences. 

Native Resource Center

The Native Resource Center, established in 2020, provides SDSU students with an extensive network across campus to provide every student the unique support that they may need, including academic support and research opportunities, engaged faculty and administrative mentors, internships and career assistance, culturally responsive leadership development, and scholarship opportunities.

Politics and History of Federal Recognition for California Tribes

Dr. Olivia Chilcote, a faculty member in the American Indian Studies Department, is leading an ongoing analysis of the politics and history of federal recognition for California tribes. She is currently conducting this research in partnership with the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, the only non-federally recognized tribe in San Diego County. With funding from a Critical Mission Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship through the UC Office of the President, Dr. Chilcote analyzes the intricacies of identities structured by legal definitions, the ways in which unrecognized tribes assert tribal sovereignty despite legal classifications, and how tribal engagement with the Federal Acknowledgment Process is part of a longer history of U.S.-tribal relationships.

Basketball and Skateboarding in Tribal Communities

Dr. David Kamper, the chair of the American Indian Studies Department, is working on a book, titled “Rezballers, Skate Elders, and the Future of Indian Country” in partnership with 25 tribes across the country.

Kumeyaay Language Studies

Dr. Margaret Field’s research explores Kumeyaay language and literature in Mexico.

In collaboration with Kumeyaay Community College and Kumeyaay tribal communities, Dr. Field, a faculty member in the American Indian Studies Department, is working to establish Kumeyaay language classes in Spring 2021.

Kumeyaay village place names from the Mission records

Margaret Field, Richard Carrico, Michael Connolly Mishkwish and Caitlyn Thompson are currently engaged in a project to identify, translate and document as well as possible the Kumeyaay villages listed in the historic registers of mission San Diego. The results of this research (made possible by a grant from the UC Critical Mission Studies project) will be made available to the public via an interactive website.

Bird Songs

Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences scholar Chris Alvarado has been pioneering scholarship on Kumeyaay Bird songs and all Yuman songs. As part of this effort, he has been working to create online curriculum of Ipai "AA' language with over 70 lessons of the Kumeyaay Language. He has also been creating online curriculum for Bird Singing for over 300 songs with Youtube Video, images, and language spelled out in linguistic form.

Comprehensive Multispecies Connectivity Planning for the SR-67 Region of San Diego County

Dr. Megan Jennings, in a project funded by SANDAG, led a stakeholder-informed effort to evaluate landscape connectivity using existing biological data around Highway 67, San Diego County. The project combined species data from remote cameras, GPS tracking, genetics, roadkill, and biological surveys, with cutting-edge analytical techniques to assess landscape connectivity. Through direct engagement with partners at the Barona Band of Mission Indians, an additional prioritization of the landscape was added to consider cultural resources that are important to the Tribe.

San Diego Feral Pig Program Monitoring

To respond to the growing threat of established feral pig populations in San Diego County, SDSU has been facilitating a working group of affected public land management agencies to work together to address the problems posed by San Diego's feral pigs in a cooperative "all-lands" approach by forming a Feral Pig Intergovernmental Group. The group is made up of 11 state, local, federal, and tribal government agencies (Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians) that manage lands and water in San Diego County. Since 2015, SDSU has coordinated field monitoring and the working group.

Connecting Wildlife and Communities

With funding from the California Strategic Growth Council, SDSU is leading a new initiative to develop a multi-benefit approach to climate adaptation action in Southern California. The project works directly with Tribal partners from 18 tribes and 2 tribal organizations across Southern California to identify key Tribal needs for climate adaptation. The project’s emphasis on understanding water sustainability and mitigating fire risk, particularly for communities at the wildland-urban interface was informed by ongoing collaboration with Tribal partners.

Resilient Restoration: Advancing Ecological, Cultural, and Community Resilience with Tribal Nations in Southern California

In collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the Climate Science alliance, researchers Dr. Megan Jennings and Dr. Lluvia Flores-Renteria from SDSU’s Biology Department and the Institute for Ecological Monitoring and Management will work to promote Tribal resilience by developing knowledge and supporting actions that enhance persistence of cultural practices with a focus on preserving the ecosystems and species that are integral to Tribal communities.  Working directly with tribal partners from 18 tribes and 2 tribal organizations across Southern California, the project will identify key tribal needs for climate adaptation, focused on restoration of culturally important species.

Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit

Since 2017, SDSU has been an active participant and contributor to the Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit. Funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and featuring participants from 49 tribes across the Southwest, the annual Southwest Tribal Climate Change Summit provides environmental professionals from regional tribes and other organizations an opportunity to meet and discuss strategies to respond to current policies, regulatory initiatives, and technical topics in responding to climate change impacts. In 2019, Dr. Megan Jennings of SDSU’s Institute for Ecological Monitoring and Management served as one of the plenary speakers opening the 3-day program. Planning for the 2021 Summit has begun, which will focus on wildfire and forests, leveraging work the U.S. Forest Service is leading and SDSU is participating in to develop a climate-informed conservation strategy for Southern California’s mountains.

California Native American Research Center for Health (CA-NARCH)

SDSU is a partner, together with Indian Health Council (IHC) and the University of California San Diego, in CA-NARCH. The CA-NARCH, with Dr. Stephanie Brodine as Program Director, aims to increase the number of American Indian/Alaska Native scientists and health professionals and to reduce health disparities in Native American populations. The goal of the NARCH initiative is to strengthen tribal sovereignty over the healthcare of the community and to recruit and support students pursuing science and health fields

SERVE: Supporting social work students 

The SERVE Project  works with students, Tribes, tribal organizations, middle and high schools, community colleges and universities to recruit and support American Indian and Alaska Natives interested in giving back to their communities as social workers. With support from the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) and leadership from Tamara Strohauer MSW, students at SDSU can receive financial support for social work degree programs with an emphasis on working with children and families. The SERVE project seeks to develop and expand Tribal partnerships with a goal to advance child welfare efforts that are representative of each regions’ Tribes and their cultural/traditional values, and improve the health and lives of Native people in California, and throughout the United States.