Faculty Emeritus Melissa K. Nelson

Melissa K. Nelson (Anishinaabe/Cree/Metis [Turtle Mountain Chippewa])

Professor Emeritus
Ph.D. UC Davis


Professor of American Indian StudiesPresident of the Cultural ConservancyLinkedInAcademia.eduEarthdiver site

At SF State Since: 

Hired 2002 -- Retired 2020


Melissa K. Nelson, Ph.D. is an ecologist, writer, editor, media-maker and native scholar-activist. She is Anishinaabe/Métis/Norwegian and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Her work is dedicated to indigenous rights and revitalization, Native science and biocultural diversity, ecological ethics and sustainability, and the renewal and celebration of community health and cultural arts.

Dr. Nelson is a professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and president of the Cultural Conservancy, an indigenous rights organization, which she has directed since 1993. Dr. Nelson received her B.A. degree 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.

Her first edited anthology Original Instructions – Indigenous Teachings For A Sustainable Future (2008), features three of her essays and focuses on the persistence of Traditional Ecological Knowledge by contemporary native communities. She publishes regularly in academic and popular journals and books. In 2005 Dr. Nelson was the co-producer of the award-winning documentary film, The Salt Song Trail: Bringing Creation Back Together and has co-produced several other documentary short films. In 2006 – 2007 Melissa was a Visiting Scholar at the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2010 – 2011 she served as the Anne Ray Resident Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dr. Nelson currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Facitiating Indigenous Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Network, the Guiding Committee of the Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning Fund and the board of directors of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and the Sogorea Te Land Trust. 

Dr. Nelson is a Switzer Fellow (1996) and Environmental Leadership Award recipient and has received awards for teaching, experiential education, documentary filmmaking, and environmental stewardship. She has presented her work throughout North America and in Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Australia, Peru, and New Zealand.