Megan Thomas – a member of the Melot family – was a participant of the Potawatomi Leadership Program in 2006 and returned as an intern for the public information department in 2007. In 2010, Thomas received bachelors’ degrees in English literature and journalism and mass communications from Arizona State University and went on to complete a Master’s of Arts in global business journalism in 2013 from Tsinghua University in China.
Thomas spoke with the Hownikan about how the PLP and the subsequent experiences with Citizen Potawatomi Nation impacted her life and her career in journalism.
What made you want to participate in the PLP?
“Growing up in Arizona, I was always proud of my heritage but wished I knew more about my history and culture. We lived far from Shawnee, Oklahoma, so I did not have as many opportunities to participate in tribal ceremonies or events. I really wanted to better understand my tribe and give back to it however I could. I also knew the professional experience early on in my college career would be beneficial for my development and help me be more competitive for other professional opportunities in the future.”
How did the PLP make you see the tribe differently?
“I came to better understand the daily operations of the tribe. I came to see how the economic operations of the tribe allow for its greater sustainability while helping provide housing, medical and educational support for tribal members, as well as professional opportunities for tribal members and non-tribal members alike. I learned how the tribal values were represented in the tribe’s judicial system.
“I also learned more about our cultural practices and participated in traditional ceremonies including several sweats. What I had previously read and imagined about the ceremonies drastically paled in comparison to actually experiencing them.
“Overall, I came to better understand the tribe’s emphasis on balance; between the new and the traditional, between the benefit of the individual and the benefit of the tribe, between the tribe and the outside world. My time in Oklahoma also helped me grow as a person. It more deeply embedded in me the importance of considering the greater whole in relation to myself and to always make sure my actions were serving others. It also taught me the vital importance of first listening and understanding. It taught me to always carry a spirit of kindness, humor, humility and gratitude.”
What have you been doing since the PLP?
“After the PLP, I took the knowledge I gained to help spread understanding of Native concerns and issues. I reported on Native issues that were carried in publications throughout Arizona and participated in discussions of Native American representation and coverage in journalism. The skills and experience I gained in my internships with the tribe gave me an early edge that helped me win scholarships and internships. I worked for organizations including the Associated Press, The Arizona Republic and MSNBC. I won a Hearst Journalism Award for my reporting on the Fort Defiance Navajo Veteran’s Cemetery, which was the proudest accomplishment of my college career. I graduated as the Outstanding Undergraduate from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2010.
“After graduating from Arizona State University, I received a full scholarship to pursue an M.A. in global business journalism at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I participated in local internships and was awarded Excellent Student Thesis, graduating in 2013.
“I then went on to work for the nonprofit that provided me my graduate scholarship in the Philippines for nearly three years, overseeing an editorial team covering news on developing industries in Southeast Asian countries. The team also provided support and training to small and medium producers in the countries to help them grow their businesses so they could hire more local people and contribute to their local economies.
“I recently took a new position as a content manager in Shenzhen, China, writing about local hardware technology startups and providing support for them.”
Are you still involved in the tribe?
“Being involved in the tribe is not the easiest thing to do on a different continent, but I try to live by tribal values each day. I work to stay aware of developments with the tribe and other Native nations in the U.S. I also try to spread awareness and understanding of Native American issues whenever I can.”
How did the PLP help you succeed?
“The tribe helped me develop personally, culturally and professionally. It gave me a better understanding of the past while spurring me to shape a better future and help others. It is the foundation upon which all my other professional achievements have been built.
“I will always be grateful to my first journalism mentor Michael Dodson for all his warm encouragement, training and understanding. He was a great, kind man to whom I’ll always be indebted. He changed my life and is deeply missed. I am also grateful to our Chairman John Barrett, Vice-Chairman Linda Capps and Secretary-Treasurer D. Wayne Trousdale for providing the incredible PLP opportunity to me. I also give thanks to Margaret Zientek, Tesia Zientek, Justin Neely, Donald Perrot, Sam Navarre, Josh Frost and the Clay family for making it the amazing experience that it was and for the knowledge they imparted to me.”
To learn more about the Potawatomi Leadership Program and to apply for the 2017 program, please visit plp.potawatomi.org.