Melissa Clyde was raised to give back to her Navajo people. Her maternal grandmother’s inspiration and hope for her family is to “keep the fire going.” This guiding vision is Clyde’s holistic path to becoming an agent of change.
In that vein, Clyde will receive a master’s degree from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Commencement May 18.
“I’m a Navajo woman, and that’s a big responsibility,” she says. “I am of the Water’s Edge Clan — my mother’s clan — and born for the Folded Arms People — my father’s clan. My life and role is solely based on the principles of womanhood that is not just to be a provider or a nurturer, I’m the caretaker of our Navajo traditions.”
Tradition is a main theme in Clyde’s work and life. She knew she was interested in the human-service field while an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, where she helped Native American students struggling to adjust to mainstream campus life.
The experience planted a seed, one that she continued to nurture through further work experience and studies. She took a summer job with the Upward Bound Program, where she taught leadership to Native American students, many of whom discussed the struggles and social problems they and their families experienced.
She returned home to Gallup, N.M., and worked with the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services, providing child protective and case-management services. The job was an eye-opening emotional roller coaster, she recalls.
“Initially, I was caught off guard,” she says. “I was not prepared to see all the social issues facing my Navajo people, issues of poverty, child abuse and poor mental health paired with the severe lack of resources.”
But seeing the struggles of the Navajo led Clyde to dedicate her life to social justice.
“I knew after a month of working with my Navajo people that I wanted to be a social worker,” she says.
Two years of work with the Navajo Nation was followed by two years as a treatment coordinator with Namaste Child and Family Development Center in Farmington, N.M. It was there that her supervisor convinced Clyde to earn a master’s degree.
Clyde received the Kathryn M. Buder Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship awarded to Native Americans who intend to practice social work in Native American communities.
“As a strong native woman, Melissa honors us all through her successes, her constant generosity of spirit, and her embodiment of collegiality and the social work ethical principle of dignity and worth of the person,” says Dana Klar, J.D., director of the University’s Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies. “Her avocation and personhood demonstrate the reality that we are all related.”
George Warren BrownSchool of Social Work
Following graduation, Clyde begins work as a community development specialist with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) in Portland, Ore., a private, non-profit organization she worked for last summer.
“As soon as I learned more about NICWA in class, I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” Clyde says. “NICWA is dedicated to child welfare and children’s mental health, which are my areas of concern.
“NICWA offered an opportunity to nurture my professional growth and an opportunity to work with tribes, policymakers, state officials and other agencies to bring awareness to American Indian children’s overall need for protection,” she adds. “I feel comfortable at NICWA because we are teaching the policymakers about the culture and tradition of American Indians.”
The job lands Clyde in a place she might have been destined for by her heritage, honoring her grandmother’s hope to “keep the fire going.”
“To be a part of that small agency and to be influential at the national level is really meaningful for me,” Clyde says. “I feel like I’m in the right place.”