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.

Melinda Shank Headshot

Spotlight on Melinda Shank,
Caseworker and Big Steps Coordinator
Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Bay and District

Mama Bison painting by Melinda Shank

Featured Painting: Mama Bison

We are featuring the Wood Bison painting of mother and child. The wild wood bison in Alberta were hunted to very low numbers in the west and under Alberta’s Wildlife Regulation, wild wood bison have been designated and protected as a Threatened species. This painting, Mama Bison commemorates the hope of revitalization of the species and the birth of the next generation of new wild wood bison in 2014. After years of consultation and monitoring, there was a recorded increase in offspring born healthy (disease free) in 2014 and I thought that was something to celebrate.

There is a certain parallel between the symbolism of Shank’s work, and the concept of legacy.

Shank challenges us to ask ourselves, “What will you leave behind? What will the next generation learn from you? And then tell me that the answers you find won’t inspire you to spend time with a young person, to share and grow and encourage them to seek a good life, build a good future and to do good things.”

Melinda created a resource that helps us understand how mentorship connects two generations and builds a pathway from the past into the future. Launch this link to view Choose a Path.

“It’s plain to see the potential and power of change within every interaction with youth. The future lies in the hands of young people and if we can build a good path they will do good things,” says Shank.

Other Works by Melinda Shank

Melinda Shank has done quite a few shows over the years as a painter. She has been involved in some artist collectives and group shows so her paintings have been in both group and solo exhibits all over Ontario. Shank is proud and honoured to have a few paintings in Ottawa that will remain there for years to come. She is proud to represent her Algonquin Nation and proud to have been selected to be part of these projects that honour and celebrate the traditional lands of her ancestors. Shank is a contributing artist to the Algonquin Artists of Ontario, and has exhibited in galleries in Hamilton, Brantford, North Bay, Bancroft, Ottawa and Mattawa.

One of her paintings, Skywoman (Geezhigo-Kwe) has been featured in a few different ways: as the image used for Indigenous Peoples Day by the University of Ottawa in 2019, as the cover of a thesis published at Trent University for an Indigenous studies course in 2020.

Skywoman was recently selected by the Federal Government (Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation) as a part of a re-naming ceremony for the Plaza Bridge in Ottawa, back to it’s original Wendat name, and this will be on display until September 2023.

Melinda Shank Headshot

About Melinda Shank – Her Own Words

Nindizhi-nikaaz (I am called) Melinda and I live in North Bay.

Nindon-jibaa (I am from) North Bay.

Nindaaw Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe.

I am a member of the North Bay/Mattawa Algonquin First Nation.

Gaawiin ningi-keni-maasii nindoodem (I do not know my clan).

I am an artist and a writer, and I am the Program Coordinator for Big Steps to Success in North Bay, Ontario.

Nindan-anoki (I work at) Big Brothers Big Sisters.

I grew up living in many distinct parts of Canada. After moving out to Alberta as an infant, I spent most of my childhood moving throughout Alberta and BC. I was born in North Bay, Ontario which is the place of my paternal ancestry, and it is the place where I feel most connected to home, as an adult. When you exist, as a child in a transient state, in an “off-grid” lifestyle, you become adaptable, resourceful and you adjust to the temporary nature of places and faces. Instead, you look to the land for resources and inspiration.

I went to post-secondary school and studied Art, English Literature and Psychology at the Dundas Valley School of Art, at Redeemer University and at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I worked in music education, music production and publishing, as a financial accounts supervisor and an office administrator and a retail manager for 15 years. I worked as an intake worker and administrative coordinator in a Sexual Assault Centre, before I arrived at Big Steps to Success. I worked in North Bay, Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas, and in London, ON.

My love of art and writing came from feeling the need to create a sense of permanence. A sense of home. Something tangible in pictures, in words and in paint strokes.

There are so many things in my life that I feel so fortunate to have experienced as an artist, truly. I started a publishing company in 2002, Melodious Publishing and spent a few years writing, recording and publishing music and had a few contracts in partnership with Sony/ATV Canada and with CBC TV, Global TV. I have just finished a manuscript -my first novel- which I look forward to publishing in 2024-2025. I just want to show my children to not shy away from the work, you know, to fully embrace possibility and to never give up.