Dr. Melissa Leal

Dr. Melissa Leal is Esselen and Ohlone and grew up in Sacramento, CA. She earned her Ph.D. in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis in 2012 where she studied under world renowned photographer Hulleah Tsnihnahjinnie. Her research includes the reciprocal relationship between Hip Hop Culture and Indigenous Communities with an emphasis on performance, activism, and visual sovereignty. She was the Lead Researcher and Advisory Board Coordinator for Rebel Music: Native America, an MTV World documentary. She teaches culture, language, and dance for various tribal communities in Northern California. She is a poet, dancer, and artist advocate. She believes in the power and necessity of revitalizing indigenous languages. She has taught Native American Film and Cinema at California State University, Sonoma and currently teaches Ethnic Images in Film at Sierra College. Melissa has more than 15 years of experience working with American Indian youth at Indian Education Programs throughout the Sacramento Region. Melissa is currently the Executive Director of Education for the Wilton Rancheria Tribe of Miwok Indians. She is on the Advisory Board for a local Non-Profit, Sol Collective. Sol Collective promotes and highlights culture, art, and activism in marginalized communities throughout the Northern California region. In addition, she is a Production Contributor for Little Thunder Films where she has worked on several documentaries and short films. Melissa’s work in education, language, film, music, and empowerment has allowed her to travel to tribal communities and colleges/universities throughout the United States.  Melissa loves working with Native American youth and has had the opportunity to do workshops and consultations on topics that range from Hip Hop to Emotional Resiliency. She considers herself a community academic, a lightweight linguist, a lifetime educator, and a passionate dancer who strives to assist young people in finding their voice in their community through activism, art, and scholarship.