While growing up on the Kickapoo Reservation in northeast Kansas and experiencing many of the deep growing pains and family dysfunctions that are common across cultures, Charissa Miijessepe-Wilson began to learn about and appreciate the richness and beauty of her Native American heritage only after becoming a young adult and moving away from home to attend college. Years after earning a Bachelor of Arts in cultural anthropology from Wichita State University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas, as well as completing coursework in international relations and affairs at American University, Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson has come full circle, proudly merging her personal and professional identities, as the co-director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and principal of the Caleb Wahwasuck Scholarship Memorial Fund for the Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation.
At the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson has been largely responsible for ramping up its key initiatives, advancing intergovernmental relations, and overseeing philanthropy and major partnerships. She’s pivoting her focus to work more with the Bears Ears Commission, the federally recognized, decision-making organization that maintains the Bears Ears National Monument. With expertise in operations and possessing a strong, longtime interest in sharing her Indigenous culture to promote progress and power building, Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson joined the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition in 2018 and became the director of operations before being promoted to co-director. The organization, she said, has allowed her to be extremely creative in realizing the potential and capabilities of sovereign tribal nations and creating new, previously unavailable, opportunities for tribes. Prior positions that helped prepare her for the strides she is making have been as a tribal council election candidate for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, an executive management trainee and project coordinator at the Norterre Healthy Living Community, a management fellow at the City of Topeka, and a legislative fellow at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Honored and sought after for her accomplishments and knowledge, Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson recently was named among the 10 Native STEM Enterprises to Watch by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. She also was a 2023 educational speaker at Harvard University, a keynote presenter at the 2022 Sierra Club Native American Land Rights Gathering, and a presenter at the First Annual Leadership Conference for Prairie Band. Her success, she says, can be attributed to being genuinely passionate about her profession and that her work can help tribes utilize their wisdom and resources to become stronger. Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson believes that her achievements also are products of her approach to leadership, which centers on building trust and being transparent with colleagues. She is motivated most when she’s creating bridges and being a conduit for young emerging professionals by showing them what opportunities are available and that they can do great things.
In years to come, Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson hopes to continue her work at Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and lead initiatives on a national level. Her goals are to establish a permanent Bears Ears Commission and help create career pathways in philanthropy, conservation, and environmentalism for young Native American professionals. She wants to demonstrate to them that they can be powerhouses in these areas because many conservation principles and goals are the same ones that they grew up already knowing and actively practicing. It is a source of pride for Ms. Miijessepe-Wilson to serve as a resource for people of any culture who need it while perennially demonstrating the power that Indigenous people have as sovereign tribal nations. In addition to her career, she is dedicated to serving the community at large as a board member at ReNew Earth Running, a civic engagement volunteer for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and a care packager and delivery driver for Albuquerque Mutual Aid, among other volunteer commitments.