Melissa K. Nelson Ph.D. (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) - President/CEO
Melissa K. Nelson is a Native ecologist, writer, media-maker and indigenous scholar-activist. She is the President/CEO of The Cultural Conservancy, which she had directed since 1993. She is Professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. Her work is dedicated to indigenous rights and revitalization, biocultural heritage and environmental justice, intercultural solidarity, and the renewal of community health and cultural arts. For over two decades Melissa has worked in the Native American food movement and since 2006 in international indigenous food sovereignty. Melissa is a Switzer Environmental Fellow and has received awards for films, community engagement, and experiential education. She publishes essays in academic and popular journals and books, and documents Native issues through AV recordings. She edited two anthologies, Original Instructions – Indigenous Teachings For A Sustainable Future (2008), and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability (2018). She has served on the boards of Earth Island Institute, Bioneers, and the Center for Whole Communities. Melissa currently serves on the boards of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and the Sogorea Te Land Trust. Anishinaabe, Cree, Métis, and Norwegian, she is a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
Sara Moncada (Yaqui) is a Native educator, dancer, filmmaker, author and cultural arts advocate. As the VP of Programs for The Cultural Conservancy, she works closely with the President/Chief Executive Officer and other staff to co-create and implement TCC programs in accordance with the vision, mission and goals of the organization. In addition to her work at TCC, Sara is co-founder of Wise Women Circles a women-owned inspirational media company, and is director/artist/educator with Sewam American Indian Dance. She was previously the Managing Director for the not-for-profit Institute for Staffing Excellence and Innovations and On Nursing Excellence, organizations devoted to inspiring and strengthening the effectiveness, recognition and well being of caregivers’ worldwide. Prior to her focus in the non-profit sector, Sara was on the early team of multiple start-up technology companies with a spectrum of responsibilities that supported rapid growth, positive Board and client relationships, and launching successful products and media programs into the market. Sara speaks and presents across the country and internationally on Native American arts and culture. She is producer of the internationally successful film NURSES If Florence Could See Us Now and co-author of The Dance of Caring a newly released bookexploring Native American Hoop Dance as a model for wellness, connection and self-care for caregivers.
Mateo Hinojosa, M.A. (Mestizo Bolivian-American) - Media Director
Mateo Hinojosa is a documentary filmmaker and educator. He has put art on screen and on stage in the US, Bolivia, Argentina, Spain and Cameroon. In South America he has worked teaching at orphanages and in the mountains, leading theater workshops in prisons, and filming everything from neurosurgeries to street art. He has taught high school literature in California, and cross-cultural documentary skills to U.S. college students in Asia. His films explore issues of individual identity in collective struggle; spirituality and health; public space and art; politics and performance. His debut feature documentary, Spectacular Movements, follows young indigenous and mestizo actors in Bolivia as they struggle to embody their people's collective voice to revive the spirit of the recent revolution on stage and in the street. His production company, Woven Path, produces documentaries as well as educational and workshop services. Mateo is TCC’s Media Director, and he also works with Te Ha and the Mino Niibi Fund.
Nícola Wagenberg, Ph.D. (Colombian/Jewish) - Senior Program Associate
Nícola Wagenberg is a clinical and cultural psychologist, artist, film producer and educator. Nícola has worked for over 20 years with diverse individuals, communities and organizations on personal and cultural transformation. Since 2005, Nícola has been working with TCC directing media projects, developing and implementing arts and cultural health programs and helping with the operations and development of the organization. She is the co-producer of “Traditional Foodways of Native America,” “The Salt Song Trail Living Documentary,” co-directed TCC’s Friendship House Urban Garden Project and is the director of the Native Youth Guardians of the Waters project. Dr. Wagenberg has a private practice in Berkeley, CA. Her doctoral research focused on transformation of historical and intergenerational trauma. She trains therapists and health workers on the impact and transformation of historical and intergenerational trauma.
Maya Harjo is an organic gardener and educator dedicated to restoring Native food systems through the revitalization of traditional foodways and the practice of sustainable agriculture. Maya grew up in Los Angeles, CA and attended Brown University, where she majored in International Development Studies and wrote a senior thesis on the concept of tribal sovereignty. On the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona, she collaborated with local Elders and community partners to bring a wide range of health and culture programming to tribal schools, community organizations, and the tribe’s organic farm. Her experience in Native youth education, project planning, curriculum development, and community engagement is bolstered by her love of growing food. After many years of working and volunteering for farms and gardens, she became a Farming Apprentice at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) program and recently graduated with a Certificate in Organic Horticulture. Maya applies her experience growing organic food with the direct aim of increasing access to healthy and culturally appropriate food for Native communities. She is Shawnee, Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Jewish and an enrolled member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma.
Ben Schleffer (Blackfeet) - Native Foodways Farmer
Ben Schleffer was born and raised in Redwood City CA. He received his BA in American Studies from UC Santa Cruz. After moving to Oakland, Ben then spent 5 years with the Seneca Family of Agencies where he worked as an after school program manager and garden facilitator. After spending some time in New Mexico and west Marin working on farms and ranches and deepening his knowledge of traditional practices, Ben moved back to Oakland to welcome the birth of his son, Isaiah in 2014. Ben has worked as a mentor and educator in Oaklands American Indian community ever since. In addition to his work with the Cultural Conservancy, Ben works with the American Indian Child Resource Center where he facilitates varied cultural, environmental, and agricultural programming for Oaklands native community including "Sovereign Seeds & Starts"—a youth led organic native seed and start company born from our east Oakland garden space/ Chochenyo Ohlone ethnobotanic landscape "Huichin Gardens."
Alejandra Cano (Mestiza - Colombiana)
Alejandra Cano is a PhD student in the Native American Studies Department at UC Davis. Her work focuses on the intersection between Culture, Food Sovereignty, Land Stewardship, and Native Science. She has been farming with TCC for the past years as part of the Native Foodways Team. She is passionate about growing food as it is a key to greater resilience, autonomy, and well-being. Alejandra graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Agro-Ecology. Since graduating in 2011, she has applied her skills as part of the Food and Environmental Justice movements in the greater Bay Area as well as abroad. Her experiences as a migrant, mestiza woman, farmer, Native American and Indigenous Studies scholar inform her efforts toward hemispheric unity of the indigenous people of the Americas. Alejandra is fluent in both Spanish and English and is excited to learn the Embera language.
Wendy Johnson - Organic Farming Teacher
Wendy Johnson is an organic gardening mentor and an ordained lay dharma teacher in the traditions of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the San Francisco Zen Center. As one of the founders of the organic farming program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, Wendy has been teaching organic agriculture and meditation for decades. Since its inception in 1995, she has been a mentor and advisor to the Edible Schoolyard Project affiliated with Chez Panisse restaurant. She is a founding instructor and mentor of the College of Marin's innovative Organic Farm and Gardening Project established in 2009. In 2000 Wendy and her husband, Peter Rudnick, received the annual Sustainable Agriculture Award from the National Ecological Farming Association. Since 1995 Wendy has written a quarterly column on gardening for Tricycle Magazine, a national Buddhist review, and she is the author of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate.
Cynthia J. Frank (Kiowa/Jewish) - Fundraising and Capital Campaign Consultant
Cyndi Frank is a consultant to nonprofit organizations by helping them raise the potential of their fundraising capacity to support the wonderful but critical programs that help our communities. Although she has worked with many important causes over the years, including environmental, animal, hunger, rare disease and cultural causes, her personal passion lies with being a patient advocate and a long-standing member of several rare disease communities. Over a 40-year span, she has participated as a Gaucher disease patient in many clinical trials and research studies to help bring treatments to market. She acts as a mentor and advocate for Gaucher patients in the community and raises awareness through speaking at patient educational events and conferences, Gaucher and rare disease symposiums and pharmaceutical patient and educational meetings. She has served on multiple boards and committees for many rare disease organizations, including Global Genes Advocacy Leaders Group, Corporate Alliance Committee and Patient Education Committee; the National Gaucher Foundation’s Gaucher Advisory Group and as a patient advisor to Sanofi Genzyme, Shire, Pfizer and Blue Turtle Bio.
Lois Ellen Frank, PhD (Kiowa) - Foodways Educator/Chef
Lois Ellen Frank is a a Santa Fe, New Mexico based James Beard Award-winning author, Chef, Native American foods historian, culinary anthropologist, and photographer. Lois has spent over 20 years documenting the foods and life ways of Native American communities throughout the Southwest writing and photographing many articles and papers on the topic. She is presently working on completing her PhD on the discourse and practice of Native American cuisine, which she is planning to publish as her next book, tentatively entitled The Turquoise Plate. Lois is an adjunct professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), where she teaches about the anthropology of food, the ethnobotany of foods and plants of the Southwest and Traditional Arts & Ecology. She is a featured cooking instructor at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and the chef/owner of Red Mesa Cuisine, a Santa Fe catering company where she cooks Native American, local and sustainably sourced foods and teaches about Native American foods of the Southwest Indian Nations with Diné Chef Walter Whitewater.
Kaylena Bray (Seneca) - “Braiding the Sacred” Consultant
Kaylena Bray is the former Foodways Program Coordinator (2013 - 2016) and currently serves as a Foodways advisor and consultant for the “Braiding the Sacred” and “Conversations with Maize” network. Over the last 5 years, she has consulted for Indigenous-led and social entrepreneurship organizations including Ashoka, Conversations with the Earth (CWE), Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Climate Change Assessment, and the California Indian Environmental Alliance. Kaylena has spent her career working to strengthen the role of traditional ecological knowledge on climate change mitigation and agricultural food systems locally in Ecuador, Peru and the Seneca Nation; and internationally with Indigenous leaders and activists at major international events at United Nations fora. Her experience in social media includes marketing and strategy development to bring Ashoka’s Changemakers and CWE increased visibility, audience, and support. She is currently a MSc candidate in Environmental Change Management at the University of Oxford.