Integrated Search Menu

Melissa Nelson

Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5502
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5502
Senior Global Futures Scientist
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5502

Melissa K. Nelson, Ph.D. joined Arizona State University in August 2020. She is a professor of Indigenous Sustainability in the School of Sustainability.  Dr. Nelson is an Indigenous ecologist, writer, editor, media-maker and scholar-activist. Before joining the School of Sustainability, she served as a professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University (2002 – 2020), specializing in Indigenous Environmental and California Indian Studies. Dr. Nelson is a transdisciplinary and community-based scholar dedicated to Indigenous rights and sustainability, biocultural heritage and environmental justice, intercultural solidarity, and the renewal and celebration of community health and cultural arts.  She actively advocates for Indigenous Peoples rights and sustainable lifeways in higher education, nonprofits, and philanthropy, and is particularly passionate about Indigenous food sovereignty at local, regional and global levels. Dr. Nelson has led numerous community-based projects through her work at The Cultural Conservancy, an Indigenous-led organization, which she has directed since 1993. She is Anishinaabe, Cree, Métis, and Norwegian (a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians). 


Melissa K. Nelson received her B.A. degree (Highest Honors) from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, both in the field of Ecology with an emphasis in Ecophilosophy and Native American Environmental Studies respectively.

Conspiracy of Ancestors Bioneers Podcast Interview with Dr. Melissa Nelson
Listen to the Land, CIIS Programs Podcast featuring Melissa Nelson
Research Interests: 

My transdisciplinary work is rooted in the fields of Ecology (cultural ecology and conservation) and Critical Indigenous Studies with significant influences from Religious Studies and Ecophilosophy. • Indigenous knowledge systems • Native food systems/food sovereignty • Indigenous-led conservation • Biocultural restoration • Decolonization • Religion and Ecology • Environmental Humanities • Indigenous Media

Research Group: 

Food Justice Research Group, ASU * Archipelago of Indigenous-led Resurgence for Planetary Health, University of Victoria, BC, Canada * Reclaiming Turtles All The Way Down, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Germany


Dr. Nelson publishes chapters and essays in academic and popular books and journals. Her first edited anthology Original Instructions – Indigenous Teachings For A Sustainable Future (2008), focuses on the persistence of Indigenous Knowledges by contemporary Native communities. Her second edited anthology, Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability was co-edited with ASU Professor Emeritus Dan Shilling and published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press. Her third collection, What Kind of Ancestor Do you Want to Be? Is co-edited with John Hausdoerffer, Katherine Cummings, and Brooke Hecht for the University of Chicago Press (2021).  She has published chapters in several books including Indigenous Traditions and Ecology, The Handbook on Religion and Ecology, The Indigenous World of North America, and Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. She publishes regularly in diverse journals such as the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Wicaso Sa Review, Earth Island Journal, and Cultural Survival Quarterly.


  • Book Chapters in Edited Volumes

2021. Nourishing. In What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want To Be?  Edited by John Hausdoerffer, Brooke Hecht, Kate Cummings, and Melissa Nelson. Chicago University Press.


2017. Getting Dirty: The Ecoeroticism of Women in Native Oral Literatures. Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Edited by Joanne Barker. Duke University Press.


2017. Education for the Eight Fire: Indigeneity and Native Ways of Learning. State of the World 2017: EarthEd – Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet. Washington, DC: Island Press, Worldwatch Institute.


2016. Indigenous Ecological Traditions in North America. Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Edited by John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker. New York, NY: Routledge Press.


2016. Linking Ancestral Seeds and Waters to the Indigenous Places We Inhabit. Co-authored with Nicola Wagenberg. Edges of Transformation: Multicultural Women’s Voices on the Intersection of Ecological and Social Healing, edited by Jeanine Canty. New York, NY: Routledge Press.


2014. Indigenous Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Persistence in Place. In The Indigenous World of North America. Edited by Robert Warrior. New York, NY: Routledge Press.


2013. The Hydromythology of the Anishinaabeg: Will Mishipizhu Survive Climate Change or is he creating it? In Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories, edited by Jill Doerfler, Niigonwedom James Sinclair and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark. East Landing: Michigan State University Press.


2013. Protecting the Sanctity of Native Foods. State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Possible? Edited by Erik Assadourian and Thomas Prugh. Washington: Island Press.  


2011. [Reprint]. Becoming Metis. The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World. Edited by Alison Deming and Lauret Savoy. Milkweed Editions.


2009. Indigenous Religions – North America. In The Encyclopedia of Sustainability, VI: The Spirit of Sustainability. Edited by Willis Jenkins. Berkshire Publishing, Great Barrier, MA.


2008. Rivers of Memory, Lakes of Survival: Native American Water Traditions and the Anishinaabeg Nation. In Deep Blue: Critical Reflections on Nature Religion and Water. Edited by Sylvie Shaw & Andrew Francis. London, England: Equinox Publishing. 


2006. Oral Tradition, Identity, and Inter-Generational Healing Through the Southern Paiute Salt Songs. In Cultural Representation and Contestation in Native America. Edited by Andrew Jolivette. Berkeley, CA: AltaMira Press.


2004. Stopping the War on Mother Earth. In Ecological Medicine: Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves. Edited by Kenny Ausubel. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.


  • Journals


2019. Wrestling With Fire: Indigenous Women’s Resistance and Resurgence. The American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 43:3. Editor, Joanne Barker.


2018. The Native Seed Pod: An Antidote to the Monoculture. Langscapes Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 2, Winter, 2018.


2011. The Future of Native Studies: A Modest Manifesto. The American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 35:1 (2011).


2008. More Than One Mask: The Context of NAGPRA for Museums and Tribes. Co-authored with Edward M. Luby. The American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 32:4 (2008) 85 – 105.


2006. Ravens, Storms, and the Ecological Indian at the National Museum of the American Indian. Wicaso Sa Review, 21, no. 2. 


2002. Introduction: Indigenous Language Revitalization. Nelson, Melissa, executive editor, ReVision Journal, Washington, D.C., Fall, 2002, Volume 25, Number 2, 3 - 4.


2002. Moyla Tuupanga: The Moon Is in the Sky: An interview with L. Frank Manriquez. Nelson, Melissa. ReVision Journal, Washington, D.C., Fall, 2002, Volume 25, No. 2, 39 – 48.


2002. Storyscapes: Living Songs in Native Lands. Co-authored with Philip Klasky. ReVision Journal, Washington, D.C., Fall, 2002, Volume 25, Number 2, 11 – 18


1998. A Psychological Impact Report for the Environmental Movement. ReVision, Spring. Vol.    20(4): 37-43.


1995. San Francisco Bay Area Coalition Forms Bonds Between Native Americans and Non-Native Restorationists. Co-authored with Emily Schwalen. Restoration and Management Notes 12(2): 243-244.


1995. Ecopsychology in Theory and Practice. In Fideler, D. (ed.). Alexandria  - Journal of the Western Cosmological Traditions. Grand Rapids: MI: Phranes Press.


1993. Our Modern Challenge: Exploring Alternatives Through Dialogue and Ecological Responsibility. The Trumpeter - Journal of Ecosophy 10 (2): 57-59.


1991. An Exploration of Intuition: Its Relationship to the Deep Ecology Movement & Ecosophy. The Trumpeter - Journal of Ecosophy 9 (2): 83-84.

Fall 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
SOS 493Honors Thesis
SOS 510Perspectives on Sustainability
Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
SOS 117Food System Sustainability
SOS 310Equity, Justice & Sustainblity

“Indigenous Sustainability Re-search and Re-storying,” 2021 Doing Research in Indigenous Communities, Arizona State University, December 16, 2021.

“Re-Storying the Medicine Line as Land Guardianship,” St. Jerome’s Lecture on the Catholic Experience, University of Waterloo, Canada, November 12, 2021.

“Indigenous Counter-Mapping for Spatial Justice,” Keynote for Indigenous Mapping Workshop - Turtle Island, November 4, 2021.

“Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability, Amerind Museum, September 25, 2021.

“Stories of Fire Resilience,” LEAP Lecture Series, University of California, Berkeley, September 22, 2021.

“Transformation and Renewal Through Indigenous Dialogue,” Beyond Bohm Series at the Pari Center, Italy, August 29, 2021.

“Traditional Ecological Knowledge - Learning from Place,” Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, August 2, 2021.

“Native Skywatchers Educator and Community Workshop: Indigenous STEM and Wellness - Indigenous North American Voices,” June 14 - 15, 2021.

Honors / Awards: 

Melissa K. Nelson is a Switzer Environmental Fellow and Leadership Award recipient and has received awards for documentary films, community engagement, environmental stewardship, social justice, and experiential education. She has also received the Ann Ray Scholar-In-Residence Fellowship from the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a Visiting Scholar Oral History Award from the Institute of American Cultures and the American Indian Studies Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. For 2022 - 2023 she received the NDN Collective Changemaker Fellowship. 


Co-editor of Environment and Planning F Journal Special Issue on Indigenous Methodologies - 2022 

Professional Associations: 

Native American Indigenous Studies Association 

Ecological Society of America  

Society of Ethnobiology 


Work History: 

Professor of American Indian Studies, College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University, 2002 - 2020. 

Founding Executive Director/CEO, The Cultural Conservancy, 1993 - 2021. 


Board President, The Cultural Conservancy

Board of Directors, Sogorea Te Land Trust

Board of Directors, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center 

Guiding Committee Member, Pawanak Fund 

Advisory Board Member, Indigenous Terra Madre of Slow Food International 

Founding Steering Committee Member, Slow Food Turtle Island Association