By Amikogaabawiikwe (Adrienne Benjamin) Mille Lacs Band Member
Last year, Band member Baabiitaw (Melissa Boyd) was the deserving recipient of a prestigious award called the Bush Fel- lowship from the Bush Foundation, headquartered in St. Paul. She is nearing the completion of year one of her fellowship, and was asked to share her journey thus far in hopes of others taking advantage of this unique opportunity in the near future. (Applications open August 7, 2018.)
What is the Bush Fellowship?
The Bush Foundation believes in the power of people to make great ideas happen for their community. It was started by the late CEO of the 3M Corporation, Archibald Bush, with a simple mission of “Do Good.” Each year, the foundation awards the Bush Fellowship to as many as 24 people from across their service region. Bush Fellows then receive a flexible grant of up to $100,000, which they can use to strengthen their leadership skills.
The Bush Fellowship is an investment in people who have a record of accomplishment and the potential to do even more for their community. Bush Fellows have shown extraordinary leadership and the ability to inspire those around them. They have a clear vision for what is possible in their community and what type of personal growth and development they need to make that vision a reality.
Since 1965, Bush Fellowships have been awarded to more than 2,300 people across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography. Melissa is in a class of successful and striving people from the region who seek to do good for their communities and the larger region.
Melissa decided that she wanted to pursue the fellowship for a number of reasons. One of them was knowing the fact that well-known Ojibwe language linguists/teachers Anton Treuer and Brendan Fairbanks were Bush Fellows. “I’ve watched them publish books and finish graduate degrees and attain Ph.Ds, and I knew that if I was going to be effective, I was going to have to build my skills to that caliber.” Melissa said. “It always seemed like there wasn’t any room previously for women to be in academia, especially in Ojibwe language, even though traditionally women have always been present in every aspect of Anishinaabe life,” Melissa proclaimed.
She also touched on the issue of the lack of pursuit of higher education by Native American people across the country: “I think there’s this idea that Indians don’t deserve to be smart or ￼have high quality education and that we’re going to have to be used to the way things are.”
Luckily for Mille Lacs, Melissa is setting out personally to change that.
Melissa reflected on the goals that she has set for herself within the fellowship and what she hopes to achieve through it. “When I think about my own goals and dreams for what education is going to look like for Anishinaabe people in the future, it’s going to be Anishinaabe history and language-focused. It will consist of our governments, treaties, storytelling, and the things that we can find in the swamp or woods to sustain our health.”
She went on, “There’s multi-cultural schools and universities all over the world and there is no reason that Mille Lacs can’t provide an Anishinaabe experience for children with excellence and healing.”
When confronted with the magnitude of her goals, she replied, “We have to release this 'us versus them' ideology. We have to go out into the big world and learn the most that we can about the technical skills it takes to exe- cute change of this magnitude, which is what I’ve chosen to do through this fellowship.”
Melissa hopes to be a role model for other Anishinaabe and all Indigenous women through this experience. “For me, the fellowship has also been about credibility and walking the talk. If I value education and I want children to value it, I have to as well.” Melissa explained. “I’m not going for this because I value United States education systems as the end-all-be-all per se, but once I achieve these degrees and the goals that I have set forth for myself, I will be a contender in the current system that is already created and then be able to make a change from within it.”
Some of Melissa’s experiences in the fellowship so far have been a global cultures and languages internship with Dr. Bren- da Child at the U of M, several work retreats involving behavior design with faculty from Stanford Medical School, Brene’ Brown’s “Shame and Vulnerability” seminar, and an Ojibwe recording project with Dr. John Nichols, in which she learned how to prepare recordings from first language speakers for the Ojibwe Peoples Dictionary Project. She is also finishing her bachelor’s degree in history/linguistics/global cultures and languages with a minor in Ojibwemowin. She also found time to complete a certificate in contemporary Indigenous multilingualism from the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Currently, Melissa has an even larger goal of working on the organization of a nonprofit called “MIINAN,” which stands for Midwest Indigenous Immersion Network for Anishinaabe Nations. Her vision for this organization is that it will be a collective community from Minnesota and Wisconsin that will make textbooks, teachers’ guides, children’s books, and other print materials necessary for classroom and training for Ojibwe immersion settings.
Congratulations, Melissa, on this incredible accomplishment. We can’t wait to watch you succeed in all that you set out to do for this community and beyond! For more information on the Bush Fellowship or the Bush Foundation, please visit bushfoundation.org.
Photo: Baabiitaw, fourth from left, with some of her Bush Foundation friends at the Dent The Future conference this winter in Napa Valley, California.