Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Social Work

Additional Affiliations

Brown School of Social Work

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Global environmental change is an ongoing and complex social problem that will continue to permeate all spheres of life on earth (Moran, 2010). Not all communities experience social and economic consequences of environmental change at the same level (Adger, 2006a; Cutter, Boruff, & Shirley, 2003; Gillespie, 2010; Nicholls et al., 2007; Vogel, Moser, Kasperson, & Dabelko, 2007). The variability of vulnerability, or potential for exposure or harm, stems from proximity to fragile ecosystems as well as social and economic differences across communities (Boruff, Emrich, & Cutter, 2005). Additionally, environmental changes are projected to have adverse impacts on marginalized populations through additional pressures on existing, struggling social systems. Indigenous coastal communities, given their attachment to and dependence on the land, are especially vulnerable to environmental changes (Ford, 2012). In addition, indigenous peoples worldwide have poorer health compared to their majority groups (Anderson et al., 2006; Castor et al., 2006; Gracey & King, 2009; King, Smith, & Gracey, 2009; Lama, 2012).

To date, there is limited academic literature on the impact of climate change on health outcomes, especially among indigenous peoples (Ford et al., 2014). Land is a viable resource to indigenous communities both culturally and for future generations. Therefore, it is imperative that we gain a better understanding of the impacts of environmental changes on indigenous communities through engaging with them in research. This community-engaged study uses a concurrent mixed methods design that involves collecting quantitative and qualitative data simultaneously, analyzing both sets of data, and then merging those results with the purpose of comparing the results with each other (Creswell, 2015) using non-probability sampling strategies. A community advisory council was developed to guide culturally relevant research procedures. Quantitative data was collected through an interviewer-administered survey (N=160) from United Houma Nation (UHN) members in Terrebonne Parish to test theoretical model to assess whether environmental changes relate to indigenous health outcomes after controlling for the moderating effects of indigenous-specific factors: connection to land, historical trauma, discrimination, social support, and ethnic identity. Qualitative data was collected through in-depth interviews (N=19) with a subset of survey participants on their shared cultural experiences of environmental changes to expand our understanding from the quantitative results. The aim of this study is to understand the health (physical, emotional, and mental) outcomes of environmental changes and shared cultural experiences among indigenous peoples in south Louisiana. Three notable findings from this study will advance empirical knowledge of environmental change exposure among indigenous peoples: (1) The study builds on previous qualitative knowledge that indigenous peoples exposed to environmental changes experience negative health consequences by quantifying their experience and showing direct relationships to health outcomes and indigenous-specific experiences. (2) There is an interconnected cyclical nature of the shared cultural experiences of exposure to environmental changes. These themes further refine the theoretical framework presented in this study. (3) Discrimination predicted poor mental health, reiterating the need to investigate contemporary trauma and makes a call to reclaim traditional knowledge and practices through developing community healing interventions. The World Bank predicts that by 2050, environmental changes will be the global challenge (World-Bank, 2010). To social workers, this will mean that environmental changes will permeate every aspect of the client’s social environment. The American Academy of Social Workers highlighted how the social work profession is well positioned to call attention to the negative effects of global environmental change with the Environmental Change Grand Challenge (Kemp & Palinkas, 2015). In fact, social workers are already involved in addressing environmental changes like natural and man-made disasters. For these reasons, I believe social work professionals will continue to carve out their role in addressing challenges of environmental change in what will be the global challenge of the century (Dominelli, 2012).


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Shanta Pandey & Michael Sherraden

Committee Members

Tonya Edmond, Bret Gustafson, Michelle Johnson-Jennings, Molly Tovar,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7WM1BTS