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Melinda Kachina Bige

Person wearing beaded earrings standing arms crossed in front of a lake or river.
  • Category: Indigenous Community Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance, 2016
  • Current hometown: Nanaimo, BC
  • Birthplace: Vancouver, BC

About Melinda

Melinda Kachina Bige is a Nehiyaw, Dene ts'ekwi from Denesuline lands of Lutsel K'e in the Northwest Territories. After graduating from UVic with her Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance, defending her thesis with her newborn daughter on her hip, Melinda began teaching Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s inaugural Indigenous Studies course. Later, as chair of the KPU’s Indigenous Studies department, Melinda created new curriculum for Indigenous Studies, which placed Indigenous ways of knowing and learning at the centre, and changed policy to encourage and prioritize the hiring of Indigenous instructors and staff. She also launched the online, non-profit journal Octopus Spirit, to showcase emerging Indigenous academics and artists. Now the associate dean of the Faculty of Arts at KPU, Melinda continues to lead change, without compromise to her vision of a decolonized, equitable and accessible institution.

How did your experiences at UVic shape who you are?

It helped me to define a more direct approach to decolonization overall and helped me to refine my skills to ensure the best use of my time and energy in the world. I’m more efficient than I ever was before.

What's a characteristic in people that’s underappreciated?

Emotional maturity—anything in the regard of emotions. Being an effective human being requires a connection to yourself and to the people around. I meet a lot of folks who struggle with that. And I think it's normal because of the way that the institutions are structured—it tends to undervalue it. It’s not something that I learned in my program, but it’s a trait that you can learn if you're fortunate enough to surround yourself with the right people.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

My kids. Also my relationship to my homeland and my community, because I wasn't raised in my home territory. I was raised primarily in the Lower Mainland, and the program gave me a push to go and develop that relationship, and I have a really good one with them now. It’s been about a decade in the making. I'm glad for that. And my kids have a connection to their home territory, which is vital.

What motivates you?

I often look back [on] my family's history and my family's relationship to the land, and our relationship to imperialism and colonization… Specifically the women in my family had the worst time and knowing that I shouldn't even be here pushes me harder than anything else. And then being able to make up for those generations that were systemically targeted to prevent them from being able to live a whole wholesome life, and being able to give that to my kids is what drives me.

What's a valuable piece of advice someone has given you?

The difference between a good mood and a bad mood is three deep breaths. Another one is you can't out-think a bad mood—you have to move your body. And then a more traditional teaching is that the grandmothers and grandfathers carry what we can’t carry, and we don’t have to carry everything, and it’s OK to give it to them.

What’s your advice to someone who’s about to graduate or uncertain about their future?

Uncertainty is so important. It's such a vital pathway to our humanity. And without it we can't dream up what we're capable of. Don’t let it swallow you. A lot of people are trained that they have to be certain about everything, but I like the idea of embracing uncertainty.

What is something that always makes you laugh?

My kids, but they also make me cry and scream in a pillow! The same thing for my husband. Also memes. And then sometimes just the things I think, because I'm pretty outlandish.

What is one food you can't resist?

The top one is caribou, and then deer. Ribs are my favourite—slow boiled over time and then cooked in the oven after.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

“Gold Dust Woman” by Stevie Nicks. We used to frequent a karaoke bar a long time ago, and there was one woman who would do that song, and I was already obsessed with the song, and she pulled out the shawls, and she would walk around the whole bar and find all of the young bucks and tease them. It was so cute. It was the best thing.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are now closed. Nominations for the 2025 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open through Oct. 18, 2024.