The White House: President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address – March 1, 2022
Educator from Saginaw Chippewa Tribe attends State of the Union
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
Indianz.Com

Melissa Isaac, a citizen of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe with a strong background in education, attended the State of the Union as a guest of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Isaac wore a ribbon skirt and a shrug to the event, which took place on Tuesday evening at the U.S. Capitol. She was seated in Dr. Biden’s box for the speech and images of her were featured prominently in media coverage.

“Honored to be selected as a special guest to First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden for the State of the Union Address,” Isaac said on social media after the White House announced her presence.

Honored to be a special guest of our First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden to the 2022 State of the Union…

Posted by Melissa Isaac on Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Isaac also shared photos taken at the White House on social media. She credited Summer Peters as the creator of the ribbon skirt and Memigwaans Begay as the maker of the shrug.

“My sister and niece are very talented! Miigwetch for making me this beautiful look!! I am forever grateful!!” Isaac wrote.

While working for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, Isaac brought the Project AWARE Program to her community in Michigan. Through a grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, she helped start an initiative to meet the needs of students in three different school systems.

“The key to Project AWARE is fostering resilience by strengthening relationships through building community,” Isaac said at the time. “The positive impact Project AWARE will have on the mental health and wellness of all of our communities will be significant.”

During a trip to Michigan last October, Dr. Biden visited the tribe and learned more about the efforts of Isaac and the tribe’s Department of Education. Isaac was serving as director of the department at the time.

Biden hosted a listening session at the Ziibiwing Center, where the tribe highlights its culture and lifeways. Isaac and her husband, Nathan Isaac, who is also an educator, took part in the event. The couple also brought their child, who was 7 years old at the time, according to the White House.

“I am a teacher, so I’m looking forward to hearing [about] Project AWARE,” the First Lady noted at the listening session on October 24, 2021. [Note: Additional photos at bottom of page.]

In a post on social media ahead of the State of the Union on Tuesday, Biden called attention to Isaac’s efforts for her community.

“As a teacher, she recognized the need to support the mental health of her students and helped secure a @HHSGov Project AWARE grant to expand resources,” the First Lady wrote.

Isaac currently works for the Michigan Department of Education, where she leads the Indigenous Education Initiative, according to the White House. She previously led the Confederation of Michigan Tribal Education Directors, which recently develop a Native resource guide for the state department.

“It is the commitment of CMTED to support the role that K-12 education plays in educating Michigan’s students and educators about the original people of this land,” Isaac said in November, during National Native American Heritage Month.

“In turn, it is the ethical responsibility of Michigan’s K-12 educators to make the personal and professional commitment to learn about the land on which they live, work, and play,” Isaac continued. “Intentional and collaborative relationships between CMTED and the K-12 teaching force will help ensure a more informed Michigan citizenry.”

The Michigan press release described Issac as the Giigdookwe, meaning “chair” or “leader” in the Ojibwe language, of the tribal educators confederation. The White House further identified her as Gizhwaasod, or “Protector of the Young.”

Isaac is a doctoral candidate at Central Michigan University, according to her online biography. She also serves on the board of the Michigan College Access Network.

During the State of the Union, President Joe Biden did not outright address any American Indian, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian issues. The only mention of Indian Country came in reference to building infrastructure across the United States.

“We’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, begin to replace poisonous lead pipes — so every child, and every American — has clean water to drink at home and at school, provide affordable high-speed internet for every American—urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities,” Biden said of the infrastructure bill that he recently signed into law. The measure brings over $13 billion to Indian Country.

State of the Union Guest: Melissa Isaac (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan)
Gizhwaasod (“Protector of the Young”) at the Michigan Department of Education’s Indigenous Education Initiative and Founder of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (SCIT)’s Project AWARE Program
Biographical information about Melissa Isaac provided by Office of the First Lady at the White House.
Isaac is an enrolled member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and serves her community through her role at the Michigan Department of Education. Most recently, Isaac worked as the Director of Education for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. As an elementary school teacher at Saginaw Chippewa Academy (SCA), Isaac recognized the need to support the mental health of her students and their families. She later successfully applied for a Project AWARE grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Using this grant, Isaac expanded mental health services for children at SCA and two public school districts, which included services for Native American children. Previously, First Lady and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy met Melissa Isaac on October 24, 2021, when they hosted a listening session focused on youth mental health with members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, educators, and families in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

Photos: First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Michigan and at Saginaw Chippewa Tribe
All photos by Cameron Smith / White House.

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy observe a tribal dance performance at the Ziibiwing Center, Sunday, October 24, 2021, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden greets performers at the Ziibiwing Center, Sunday, October 24, 2021, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy pose for photos with performers at the Ziibiwing Center, Sunday, October 24, 2021, in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy participate in a listening session on youth mental health with Saginaw Chippewa tribe members, Sunday, October 24, 2021, at the Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden receives a Native American blanket following a listening session on youth mental health with Saginaw Chippewa tribe members, Sunday, October 24, 2021, at the Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy participate in a listening session on youth mental health with Saginaw Chippewa tribe members, Sunday, October 24, 2021, at the Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Jill Biden
First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy greet Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Joseph, second from right, and others at MBS International Airport in Freeland, Michigan, Sunday, October 24, 2021.(Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)