Faces of NPR: Devin Mellor
Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week, we feature Devin Mellor, the Operations Manager.
Name: Devin Mellor
Job Title: Operations Manager, NYB
Where you're From: Boothbay Harbor, ME
What do you do at NPR?
I do a lot of different things. There are about 60 staff in the NY office and my job is to support all of them and to keep the trains running on time, whether that means doing small things, like ordering office supplies and coffee to make sure everyone is caffeinated, to doing more macro level stuff like going over safety and emergency preparedness plans with the heads of security and facility. Basically I just make sure the office runs smoothly.
I go into the office once a week. NY is in a funny position right now because the office is being renovated. There's not much of an office for people to go to right now. Hopefully, renovations will be done by April.
How long have you been at NPR?
I've been at NPR five years and change.
What has kept you here?
For me, it's really the people and the mission. I thoroughly enjoy the company of my coworkers which has been hard to replicate the last year and a half, but luckily with everyone being remote, it has opened opportunities for me to work with people I wouldn't normally work with because my job is on-site specific. Last year, I was a part of the 'Work From Home Better' team so I got to meet and work with all of the lovely people on that team.
I also love the content. I was an NPR listener long before I was an employee. At my previous job, NPR podcasts really kept me sane. I've been a Planet Money listener for a long time; now I get to work with them because most of them are based in NY. I started listening to Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in high school. I would download the podcast onto my iPod and listen during study hall. You had to download podcasts from the iTunes Store then.
How do you celebrate your Indigenous heritage?
In a lot of different ways. I am a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. I keep this flag on my desk at the bureau (when I'm at the office). I try to go to events here in the city, whether they be powwows or cultural events. I also try to talk to our coworkers about it every chance I get. I read my tribal newspaper, and I vote in my tribal elections. I haven't been able to go to any of the live events recently because of Covid, but one day!
Knowing your history has essentially been erased from American teaching, how do you preserve your history and culture?
To your point about Native American history not being taught in school, this is something I had to seek out. I had the opportunity to do so when I was in college. My tribe is pretty well organized. There are tools and institutions in place like the Potawatomi Cultural Center or our newspaper. Our tribe also has a podcast that comes out monthly. It's a lot easier than it used to be. For people who are interested in learning more, regardless of their ethnic background, it starts with learning the history of wherever you are. Look up what tribe called your area home before colonization; do research. If you're in DC, go to the American Indian Smithsonian Museum. They have exhibits from all parts of the continent.
How do you feel on holidays that celebrate colonization, like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?
I appreciate that more recently Columbus Day has been, if not replaced, then co-celebrated as Indigenous Peoples Day. That is in a lot of ways just the start. I try to take it as a call to action. As far as Thanksgiving goes, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. What I've tried to do in recent years is decolonize the Thanksgiving meals by including a variety of food and also introducing conversations at whatever dinner table I'm a part of. Last year, I made Three Sisters Salad and did duck instead of turkey.
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When you learned about the history of Natives in elementary school, did you know it was false?
My public school education in Maine was very good. We did learn about the First People in fourth grade. Then in fifth grade, we went back to Ancient Egypt. Sixth grade was The Renaissance. We bounced around a lot. I don't want to say it was inconsistent, but it was a little inconsistent. For me, I always think of learning as a lifelong pursuit. I always try to seek out new information and new perspectives. I will always be relearning some things and unlearning other things.
On a personal level, I remember asking my grandmother about our Potawatomi ancestry. She grew up during the phase of assimilation, and she really didn't like to talk about it. That hit closer to home for me than the formal education of schooling because she felt like she had to suppress and distance herself from a part of herself. I've just been trying to do my best as a person to not repeat and not do the same.
Where are you originally from?
Coastal Maine, a little town called Boothbay Harbor. It was idyllic. It was a lovely place to grow up, at least in the '90s. The winters are long and quiet.
In some ways, it's the polar opposite from New York. In my hometown, everything closes at 9. Nothing is open late. The population density is obviously much lower, but in a lot of ways NYC is a city of neighborhoods and small towns within it. Walking to buy my groceries is something I've been doing since I was a kid, and chatting with my neighbors on their front porch is something I still do in New York. It's not as different as people think it is.
One more note I wanted to make about my tribe specifically: As I said, it's a very well organized one. It's also one of the few that has legislative districts throughout the United States. For example, growing up in Maine and now here in New York, I'm part of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Legislative District 1. Even though I grew up very far away from the reservation, my tribe's homeland there was always a connection and framework and network to work with.
The homeland is the Chicago area. But my particular tribe, our band, was forcibly relocated to Kansas in the 1800s, then voluntarily relocated from Kansas to Oklahoma. The reservation and tribal infrastructure is in Oklahoma.
How do you keep up with this information?
A lot of this is on the tribe's cultural center website, but I've always read books separately. I've always sought out as much info as I can.
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