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2024 ASU MLK Jr. Student Servant-Leadership awardee aims to shine light on Indigenous business expertise

Portrait of Jamelyn Ebelacker

Jamelyn Ebelacker, 2024 ASU MLK Jr. Student Servant-Leadership awardee.

January 02, 2024

Jamelyn Ebelacker belongs to many diverse communities. As a lifelong multidisciplinary artist, tribal member of Santa Clara Pueblo, Peace Corps volunteer leader and W. P. Carey School of Business MBA candidate at ASU, Ebelacker believes that the communities that raised her help shape who she is today.

Ebelacker has been selected as Arizona State University's 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership awardee and will be honored on Jan. 18 as part of ASU's annual MLK Jr. Celebration Breakfast.   

“I have grown up in many small communities and understand how special that is. Experiencing the nuances that weave together to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and loved and cared for is unlike anything else and something I want to continue to amplify and encourage wherever I go,” Ebelacker said. “I've always believed in the importance of giving back, acknowledging the opportunities this life has provided me and feeling a purpose-driven responsibility to meaningfully contribute in return, for those around me, and those that will come after me.”

After attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for her undergraduate degree, Ebelacker joined the Peace Corps with the intention of fostering a deeper connection to the global community on a broader scale. 

While in the Peace Corps from 2017 to 2020, she served as a volunteer leader in Castries, Saint Lucia, collaborating with local counterparts to improve literacy rates among primary school students, develop innovative educational initiatives and organize country-wide waste cleanup programs. 

“After earning my BFA in new media arts at IAIA, I joined the Peace Corps. A good portion of my family has served in the military or, prior to colonization, as the chieftains of the tribe. We've always had warrior leaders in our family, but when it was my turn to make the decision to serve, I decided to go on a bit of an unconventional route,” Ebelacker said.

“As a Peace Corps volunteer, I saw firsthand the profound role that grassroots organizing and community-based care had on the well-being of individuals, families and entire neighborhoods. While that concept is something that I'd always grown up (with), this was the first time that I truly experienced the transformational power of interconnectedness and intentional, informed community-building."

After the world shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic, Peace Corps operations were put on hiatus worldwide, and Ebelacker was sent home from her assignment. However, she was able to find new initiatives that fulfilled her desire to give back to communities in unique and meaningful ways.

Ebelacker found further purpose as a cultural consultant and project manager for Indigenous Direction, a Native-run consultancy founded by two current ASU staff members: Ty Defoe and Larissa FastHorse. Within this role, Ebelacker was able to help redefine the Indigenous experience and awareness within various spheres of American society — notably, how to define a more inclusive national celebration around the Thanksgiving holiday. In collaboration with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade creative teams, Ebelacker was able to assist in the production and creation of the “People of the First Light” parade float, dedicated to generations of the Wampanoag Tribal Nations of Massachusetts.

“In helping Macy's reevaluate the stereotypical Thanksgiving myth through a more historically accurate Indigenous lens, the Wampanoag Tribe and Native peoples of this country were empowered to represent themselves and speak the truth of their own stories and histories.

"We're in our fourth year of this project now, and the Wampanoag people continue to bring youth and elders from the tribe to the parade as ambassadors of their thriving and vibrant culture,” Ebelacker said. “To be a part of sharing that narrative in an accurate and widespread way feels so vitally important. It's incredibly meaningful for me to be in a position where I am able to uplift Indigenous people through art and advocacy, and to bring about positive change. It will always be an honor to work alongside amazing people who strive to change things for the betterment of others every single day.”

Within the ASU community, Ebelacker continues to prove herself as a leader, entrepreneur and creative. As co-president of the MBA Association at W. P. Carey, she actively promotes collaboration and fosters an environment of fairness and accountability. In her pursuit of a Master of Business Administration with a focus on consulting, marketing and sustainability, Ebelacker aims to blend innovative business initiatives with Indigenous creativity and traditions, and hopes to contribute to fostering positive outcomes for Santa Clara Pueblo and the Indigenous community as a whole.

“Native peoples were the first entrepreneurs of this land. Still today, Native-owned organizations and business initiatives continue to provide sustainable opportunities for tribal communities and individuals to thrive financially while ensuring the perpetuation of their unique cultural knowledge, language and traditions," Ebelacker said. “There's so much nonmaterial wealth that Native people can share with the world, and my hope is that by working within and for these communities, I can be a part of helping that come to fruition for generations to come.”

In her ventures, Ebelacker makes a point to remember those who served and sacrificed before her as a means of grounding and support. While she forges her own path, she will always acknowledge with profound gratitude the community-builders, innovators and ancestors who continue to inspire her daily.

“I am the culmination of a multitude of diverse individuals and experiences that have shaped me, building upon the legacy of those who paved the way. But regardless of your background and your story, I believe we all have it within ourselves to be a leader, to be a fixer, to be a helper. I think perhaps that's our one true charge in life — to be a good ancestor.” 

More 2024 MLK Jr. awardees

Staff Servant-Leadership Award: Kenja Hassan

Faculty Servant-Leadership Award: Jeffrey R. Wilson

Community Servant-Leadership Award: Larry Fitzgerald Foundation

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