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My Story Began Here


Photo of Melissa standing with a cactus behind her and a Ph.D. graduate cap on her head. She smiles proudly.

When I became involved in a month-long program studying Indigenous art, literature, and culture, where most texts read and scholars brought in were non-Native (mostly white male), and where a scholar claimed a young Haida man didn't know his own culture's art unless he studied it at a university, I saw my calling very clearly: change the education system from the inside. This moment cut deeply and I saw my life's purpose within education and dialogues with youth. So I sought to obtain a Ph.D.

I was a first-generation student, with hardly any mentors to guide me at being the first Bachelor's, then Master's, then Ph.D. graduate. I was rarely nurtured or given transparent feedback, although I had a few periods of shifting mentorship. I stumbled and fumbled a lot due to this, not understanding the hoops or the classist system, where even as an adult in her 30s, I suddenly had no worthy experiences to offer if I didn't quote the right theorist or text. But I did have my community's values.  I focused my mind on the artist from the trip and on the youth in my community because I too had important knowledge to offer the academy. I applied my community's Good Mind to my projects and pushed to pursue Indigenizing my research and my curriculum. And at the end of that degree, my mom said to me, "I'm so very proud of you for keeping your values and your ethics."

After attending college, I embarked on a long journey as an educator to understand the differences of my students and to build safe spaces for them. The more they saw themselves in the curriculum and programming, the more they felt heard and seen, resulting in confidence and success. I promoted inclusivity, understanding, relationality, and community-centered dialogues with culturally restorative practices.

And another curve in my pathway

The more I focused on decolonizing my classroom and speaking about balance and equity to others, the more pushback I received. And the more that I mentored students grateful for seeing themselves in the lessons and readings, the harder I worked to expand where they could see themselves on campus. This took a toll on my body and my mind. Change couldn't keep up with the actual needs of BIPOC, queer, and disabled students, and sometimes necessary change was refused. Then one summer, I attended a book group my community hosted on leadership in our communities. One discussion reminded me that sometimes we cannot change the system from within, especially when the system's foundation isn't Good-Minded.

This is erasure at a deep level that will take time to illuminate and change for the better. Quick fixes and band-aids will not work. Large, general changes will not increase justice work, but rather dilute it. I believe strongly that we can all work together to communicate better and collaborate on how to rebuild systems individually one organization at a time and one person at a time. So I carved a new pathway and began to grow a business centered on culturally sustaining practices structured from the foundation to the support trusses. I could then instill the Good Mind throughout everything that I do and from there teach sustainability of connection in the workplace and in academia to others. I have not left teaching, I am adding on to where I make deep changes. My teaching background as a BIPOC woman makes me uniquely qualified to train and mentor others in this important work.

We can better institutions by not simply checking a "diversity" box, and instead by fully engaging all programming with supportive justice and relationality. I use the Good Mind to restructure your institution through knowledge and relationship building--ways that offer stronger and safer spaces for everyone.

I live what I teach. Modeling diversity and inclusion does not end for me once I leave work. I extend the care and the ability to listen to others to those I interact with daily, with how I spend my time in volunteer work and work within my community, and with how I speak to friends and family. I choose my activities based on how I find balance in my own life, but also consider a service-driven life. I strongly believe that if we carry out our Good-Minded ways in our every day, we become stronger each year at evolving and growing how we understand differences. It is with this philosophy that I develop my training , workshops, and mentoring.

In my spare time, I garden, walk my dog on the beach, and write Indigenous Futurism novels imagining the better worlds I hope to build right here that I so strongly believe are just within reach.


Photo of Melissa in a light blue dress sitting with Window Rock in Tempe, AZ behind her.

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