When you meet Melinda Shank, there is instantly a sense of connection. There is also a quiet strength, deep caring and conviction. During our conversation, we explored how Melinda identifies with Indigenous people, and her lived experience across this country. Perhaps it’s Melinda journey on a path to understanding her roots and legacy that has made her the person she is today, a renowned artist, with a diverse career in music education, production and publishing and roles with social service agencies. Most recently, Melinda joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in North Bay, Ontario as a Caseworker and Big Steps to Success program coordinator.
“Finding my place in this world has never been easy, especially since we moved around so much. My dad is from an Algonquin Anishinaabeg family and I also have English and Scottish family on my mom’s side. But I do not think it’s ever easy for anyone and identity is deeply personal. When I became a young mother, I applied for membership with the Algonquin First Nation because my dad is a member. I was raised with this awareness of our role as stewards of the earth and I was taught to honour our history and our roots. ‘Unceded’ just means ‘never surrendered’ and this is where I live now, on the sovereign and unceded Algonquin land where I was born. Where my dad was born, and his parents before him, and so on. I feel like I belong here.”
Melinda adds, “It’s a sense of belonging that contributes to my interest in community connections and in mentorship and my role in Big Steps to Success. I think everyone should feel like they belong somewhere and that they matter.”
Melinda draws on this rich artistic experience to enhance the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters in North Bay, and the working relationship they have built with Indigenous people in this community. Art is a universal language.
“Having met and spoken to Indigenous artists in this Northern community has brought their stories into our office. We have their voices on display here in our entranceway and hallways, beautiful paintings and drawings from local people with incredible talent. We’re proud to be a part of this community, and we’re hopeful that these images will inspire our young people. My art is just one of these stories,” adds Melinda.
Melinda credits the agency’s executive director, Darlene Jamieson, for creating a safe space and workplace where there is lots of laughter and encouragement, all within wide but firm boundaries; this is empowering.
“Darlene is a quiet and a strong leader. She has an uncanny ability to read people and always responds in a constructive and thoughtful way that incorporates celebrations of success within a pro-active environment. Working with a leader who not only recognizes people’s talents and gifts but also who allows people to embrace their role and to be themselves makes us all want to do better; makes us all want to do our best,” says Shank.