Dennika Mays [they; them; their, theirself] ---- They grew up in occupied Dakota/Lakota/Nakota/Sioux and Anishinaabe territory Mní Sóta (Minnesota) in a town named Bemijigamaag (Bemidji).
There, Dennika was gifted knowledge of Ziibaaska'iganagooday(Jingle Dress) dance and introduced to Ojibwa language by their first-grade teacher, a member of Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga’igan (Red Lake) Nation. In third grade, they were gifted knowledge of beading..
It was a privilege to grow up the bountiful resources of Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin (Great Lakes region). Plenty of fresh foods to eat, fish to catch, blueberry patches to find, strawberries to pick, and trees to climb. Favorite trees are birch, white pine, and cedar. Dennika also enjoyed gardening with their mother and maternal grandmother.
Dennika was drawn to the beauty and power of Gichi-Gami (Lake Superior) and attended The College of Saint Scholastica in Onigamiinsing (Duluth) from 2008-2012. There, they received their B.A. in International Relations; completing a self-built semester abroad to Ayiti (Haiti) in 2012.
From 2012-2015, Dennika moved to (what is now called) Miami, Florida. There, they attended Florida International University (FIU) in a combined M.A./Ph.D program in African and African Diaspora Studies and Global and Sociocultural Studies. Here, Dennika learned the academic rigors of graduate education. While they were unable to attain a degree, Dennika is grateful for the research, writing, and leadership skills learned while attending this institution.
In 2013, Dennika also established a student organization called Global Indigenous Group, and is proud to see they're still active and have since expanded on the FIU campus. The establishment of this student organization was monumental, as Dennika is adamant about intentional creation of safe spaces for Indigenous peoples historically underrepresented/excluded from mainstream institutions.
Winter, 2014, Dennika became Chairperson for Inclusion For Humanity Corporation. Here, they co-develop strategies for ecological restoration, sustainable food growing projects, and energy independent communities. Dennika provides access to the Earth Sanctuary Resource Center, ensuring Inclusion for Humanity is able to access relevant climate-sensitive data to inform their work assisting the black and Indigenous collectives throughout Colombia.
Summer of 2015, Dennika consulted with Love The Everglades Movement to co-organize and co-facilitate Love the Everglades Movement Summer Symposium 2015: "The Rights of the Water". Dennika is grateful for the time spent with this group; being introduced to Miccosukee country, the Everglades, community resilience tools, and generous gifts such as a patchwork shawl, and beaded medallion.
Dennika is grateful to the Miccosukee people, whose resilience and indigenuity continue to inspire and motivate people to put meaning into action- to love (as a verb) the Everglades!
In 2015, after completing 48 credits at FIU, Dennika left Miami to live on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in the Everglades. Here, Dennika learned traditional food growing methods, wood harvesting, and worked briefly at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. An important life phase, where it is learned the significance of grounding and reconnecting with the environment and the planet as a whole.
Dennika is grateful to the Seminole people for providing a safe space for personal development and inner growth. The beauty and resilience of the Everglades provided a sense of home and comfort, and was a welcome refuge after the hectic trials of graduate school. Shonabisha. Miigwetch.
Fall of 2016, Dennika returned to Mní Sóta and in 2017 worked briefly as a Community Expert at South Education Center (SEC) in I-mni-za Ska Dan (St. Paul). During this time, they found a passion for working with youth in underserved communities. Dennika maintains much gratitude for the students at SEC who enriched their life and career pursuit.
Dennika is inspired toward curriculum design through their experiences with neurologically diverse students as SEC.
Fall, 2018 Dennika joined Earth Sanctuary as a volunteer. They became Associate Director in 2019. End of Summer, 2020, Dennika joined a fellowship program, Lead For Minnesota where they are currently working to synthesize their life and academic experiences and translate this into sustainable community development and inter-regional partnerships.