Diversity and inclusion

Melissa is honouring Indigenous heritage

June 6, 2024

A photo of Melissa standing inside her store. 

Melissa Bouchard has been practicing Indigenous teachings her whole life, but in the past few years, she’s found it particularly important to learn about her heritage—and to talk about her culture with the non-Indigenous people in her life.  

“I consider myself a street-smart and wilderness-smart person,” says Melissa, who is the Assistant Store Manager at Tanner’s YIG in Espanola, Ont. and a proud member of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. “If I got stranded out in the bush, I know that I could build myself a shelter and a fire, and hunt or fish for food, and that comes from my Indigenous roots. I've learned a lot from my elders—my grandmother is an elder who lives in the elders’ lodge in Sagamok, and she taught us how to take care of ourselves if need be.” 

Of course, Anishinaabe culture isn’t just about wilderness skills. Community elders also taught Melissa about the Seven Grandfather Teachings as a child. These guiding principles—Humility (Dbaadendiziwin), Bravery (Aakwa'ode'ewin), Honesty (Gwekwaadziwin), Wisdom (Nbwaakaawin), Truth (Debwewin), Respect (Mnaadendimowin) and Love (Zaagidwin)—are an important part of Anishinaabe culture and provide a framework for human conduct. Melissa says she quickly understood the importance of implementing them in every part of her life, even at work. In fact, she credits her career success to these Teachings. 

“One teaching that comes to mind for my career is bravery. I'm a very shy person. I never saw myself as a leader—I always sat back and observed people,” she says. “But as I grew older, I learned to put myself forward instead of being a follower. I’ve put my name out there. And I believe wisdom plays into that, too, because I've been taught that you have to step up and speak up for yourself.” 

And she’s not done learning about her culture. Over the past four or five years, her family has lost several of its elders, which showed her the importance of speaking with her relatives while she still can, in addition to doing her own reading and research. That’s why she regularly visits her grandmother and other elders at the elders’ lodge. In fact, she’s already planning a visit to mark National Indigenous History Month and Day, where they will burn tobacco.  

She’s also feeling increasingly comfortable teaching non-Indigenous people about her culture.  

“Indigenous people are very intelligent and hard-working; we’re just regular people, and I want others to see that,” Melissa says. “I believe that learning about different cultures and histories can help break down barriers and build understanding. So, I take the opportunity to talk about my culture whenever I can, whether it's at work or in my personal life.”