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Meet Our Staff

Chief Executive Officer

Melissa Buffalo, MS

Meskwaki
Han mitakuyepi! Melissa is an enrolled member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa and Dakota from the Crow Creek and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes. She grew up in South Dakota and comes from a large extended family. Melissa received an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and earned an MS in Human Development from South Dakota State University. As the Deputy Director, Melissa is committed to working with and for our tribal communities, both urban and rural as we support our loved ones with opportunities to heal, emotionally, historically, spiritually, and physically from the burdens of cancer. She does this work because of the lasting impacts of cancer on her immediate and extended family. We know many cancers are preventable, and our people deserve access to those preventative resources that keep them healthy for themselves, their families, and communities.

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Operations Manager

Shannon Zila, MS

Siksika Blackfoot

Oki! Shannon’s ancestors belong to the Siksika Blackfoot tribe in Montana and Canada.  Shannon holds a Master of Science in human services and social and community outreach from Capella University along with a bachelor’s degree in history and human relations from Saint Cloud State University.  She chose to work for the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) because it was a calling for her.  Shannon’s family has been impacted by cancer and she sees the inequities that Indigenous people face with their health, both in access, prevention strategies, and the inclusion of our culture and identities.  It is Shannon’s goal to create healing relationships and change the course by creating and promoting policies that integrate culture and identity, in health.  In her role as the Operations Manager, those outcomes are created through relationships, education, communication, and policy change.

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Prevention & Policy Manager

Chris Johnson, MA

Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota

Hau mitakuyepi! Chris chose to work at the American Indian Cancer Foundation because of the impact cancer has had on his family. Working at AICAF allows Chris the opportunity to help end the cancer disparities that disproportionately affect our communities. In his role as the Prevention and Policy Manager, Chris works across AICAF initiatives with expertise in policy and system and environmental (PSE) change solutions. He also takes the lead on project coordination of partners, resources development, facilitation, training, and technical assistance with an emphasis on culturally-relevant PSE changes that promote health equity, health promotion, and healthy norms.

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Hello! Aniin! Lindsey is the Cancer Programs Manager and has a Masters Degree in Nursing Education. Lindsey previously worked for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in their clinic in various roles. One of her main focuses while working at Bad River was to reduce the cancer burden in the community. She thoroughly enjoyed her work and after having a son and taking some time off, Lindsey felt a pull to return to the good work of reducing cancer burdens in Indian Country. This pull brought Lindsey to AICAF. She chose to work for AICAF because they strive to eliminate cancer burden in Indian Country on a national level. Lindsey feels privileged to work with antalented team of professionals, and within the Indian Community as a whole. Chi Miigwech!

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Research Manager

Wyatt Pickner, MPH

Hunkpati Dakota

Wyatt Pickner, MPH (Hunkpati Dakota) is the Research Manager at the American Indian Cancer Foundation. Originally from the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, Wyatt now lives and works in Minneapolis, MN. A graduate of the University of Washington School of Public Health, Wyatt is dedicated to improving the well-being of Native communities across the United States. He has 10 years of experience in working with tribes, tribal organizations, and Native-serving organizations at local, regional, and national levels on research projects, capacity building, training, and community engagement.

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Research Assistant

Madison Anderson, MPH

Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe

Boozhoo! Madison works with the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) because she believes that we need more data about the health inequities within our communities.

As a Research Assistant at AICAF, Madison assists with study design and collecting, analyzing, and disseminating research about the behavioral risk factors of cancer in American Indians. Madison has an MPH in Community Oriented Primary Care, and she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Madison is dedicated to serving and advocating for Indigenous communities within the health research sector.

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Samantha is the Office Administrator with the American Indian Cancer Foundation. Growing up, many of her friends and family had in some way been affected by cancer. With it being a large presence in Samantha’s life, it led her to work in the healthcare field. While working alongside individuals every day, many who were in the dark about what was happening, it gave Samantha the drive to find a career where she could help them. When the opportunity presented itself to join the AICAF team, it felt like a calling. Though most of her work is behind the scenes, Samantha’s past experiences give her the drive and motivation to support our staff so they can further provide American Indian and Alaskan Native people with access to resources and information they need about prevention, early detection, and treatment.

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Senior Program Specialist

Daanis Chosa, BS

Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe

Boozhoo. Daanis is from the Keweenaw Bay Chippewa Indian Community in Michigan and is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. Daanis holds an AS in Community Development and a BS in Sociology – Policy Analysis at the University of Minnesota. She chose to work at the American Indian Cancer Foundation because she is an advocate for health equity in Native communities and reclaiming our identity and culture as Indigenous people. Daanis’s family have been impacted by cancer and she has lost loved ones to this disease. It is her goal to help change this story by promoting healthy living and prevention strategies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. In her role as the Prevention and Policy Coordinator, Daanis supports strategies that improve health outcomes in Native communities with a focus on policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change.

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Prevention & Policy Coordinator

Alyssa Diaz, BA

Mabuhay! As a Prevention and Policy Coordinator, Alyssa provides technical assistance in policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change solutions to promote chronic disease prevention and health equity. Prior to this role, Alyssa served as AICAF’s AmeriCorps VISTA developing AICAF’s survivorship program. She is passionate about health equity, social justice, and decolonizing public health. As a first-generation Filipina-American, Alyssa understands the importance of allyship with Indigenous communities and carries this understanding through her work. Outside of work, Alyssa enjoys cooking Filipino food, rock climbing, and in the winter, she teaches cross country skiing.

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Cancer Programs Coordinator

Justin Jones, MS

Tlingit & Haida

Justin is Yanyeidí, Eagle/Wolf Tlingit (as well as Haida, Tsiminshian, Nisga’a, Scottish, and Irish). His Tlingit name is X’at Kweíx and he was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. Growing up in such a beautiful area sparked Justin’s interest in fishing, running, hiking, and enjoyment of the great outdoors. Justin received a BS in Engineering Physics from Whitworth University and an MS in kinesiology from The Pennsylvania State University. With these areas of study, Justin now focuses on health education and physical activity promotion in Indigenous communities. He looks forward to progressing this work as a Cancer Programs Coordinator at AICAF. Keijín dakee!

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Cancer Equity Senior Program Specialist

Misha Loeffler, BA

Bay Mills Ojibwe

Misha Loeffler is the Cancer Equity Senior Program Specialist for the American Indian Cancer Foundation. At the heart of what she and so many people in our communities believe is that we are all related, and our health is tied to one another. With this in mind, Misha joined AICAF to address cancer burdens affecting our Indigenous relatives. This role gives Misha the honor of working with cancer survivors, caregivers, and many community members on initiatives across the cancer continuum, including prevention, screening, early detection, survivorship, and health equity. Misha feels grateful to work alongside survivors, coworkers, and other relatives who are committed to protecting the health of our community members and generations from systemic problems that impact our healthcare access and overall quality of life. Misha dedicates her work at AICAF to her grandmother, who was a colorectal cancer survivor, and all of our relatives who are affected by cancer.

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As a Prevention and Policy Coordinator, Sana supports sustainable strategies that strengthen Native community systems and improve health outcomes. Sana earned a BA in Physiology and an MPH in Public Health Administration and Policy, both from the University of Minnesota. As a first generation Pakistani-American, Sana aims to ally herself with Indigenous communities so she can support and follow their leadership. She is passionate about systems change work and healing justice work involving reviving and reclaiming ancestral healing and collective practices that address generational trauma and oppression. In her off-time, Sana enjoys painting, reading and writing poetry, and nature walks.

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Communications Specialist

Cheryl Bird

Oglala Lakota

Cheryl Bird is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. With nearly ten years of experience in Indigenous communications, Cheryl is passionate about helping tribal communities. Cheryl previously worked for national and local Native organizations, and is dedicated to helping raise awareness of cancer in Indian Country.

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Prevention & Policy Coordinator/ Public Health Associate

Matta Sannoh, MSPH

Matta was raised in Maryland by immigrant parents from Sierra Leone. After completing her undergraduate studies in Life Science & Sociology at the Pennsylvania State University she went on to receive a Master of Science degree in Public Health from the University of Miami, allowing her to further exercise her passion for health equity and social justice.

Affiliated through the Centers for Disease Control Public Health Associate Program, her objective at AICAF is allyship with American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Her primary focus is commercial tobacco and supporting cessation efforts that address the disproportionate impact it has on Native communities.

 

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As a Research Specialist with AICAF, Anna supports the collection and dissemination of Indigenous-specific health research. Anna has a background in socioeconomic and environmental research through her Master of Science in International Development and Bachelor of Science in Ecological Science and Conservation Management. She is excited to work with AICAF because she is passionate about community-led research and sharing results directly with the community, not just with academia. When she isn’t busy researching, she likes to read, bake, and spend time outside (with or without her cat).

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Communications Coordinator

Lauren Conroy, BA

Ojibwe

Lauren Conroy is a Communications Coordinator for the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF). She was born and raised in Minnesota, and part of her family comes from the White Earth Nation. Cancer has had a deep impact on Lauren’s life and family. She has lost loved ones to the disease. That personal connection drove her to work with the AICAF team to help stop the spread of cancer. With a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota, Lauren has almost ten years of experience in media and is now using her background to help raise awareness of cancer in Native communities.

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Marie started working at the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) in February 2021. She grew up in Florida but has lived in Minneapolis since she graduated from Grinnell College with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Russian. Her first job after college was as the Aquatics Director at the Boys and Girls Club in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis where she taught swimming lessons to school-age children and coached the swim team.  While raising money for the swim team Marie discovered her aptitude for grant writing and finances.

Since then, Marie has worked as a government grant writer, nonprofit financial coordinator, and corporate cost accountant giving her over 14 years of accounting experience.  Marie has also continued to teach swim lessons part-time. Marie chose to work at AICAF to honor her mother who recently died from ovarian cancer.  As Finance Manager at AICAF, Marie works closely with all staff to ensure that financial records comply with generally accepted accounting principles, practices, and systems. In her spare time, Marie enjoys swimming, catching Pokemon, and spending time with her family and friends. 

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Research Coordinator

Mac Hickey, BA

Ojibwe

McKinley (Mac) is from the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. He is currently a Research Coordinator with the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF). He joined AICAF because he is interested in working to promote healthy behaviors and communities. He has a bachelor’s degree in health and human physiology from the University of Iowa. Go Hawkeyes! Mac’s work will include collaborating with other AICAF staff to coordinate community-based research projects. That includes documenting the use of commercial tobacco among American Indians in Minnesota and addressing the high rates of commercial tobacco use in our communities. He will also gather data, develop IRB applications, and analyze results using a tobacco survey developed with the assistance of tribal communities.

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Prevention & Policy Coordinator

Catherine Zingg, BA

Ho-Chunk Nation

Hinįkaragiwi! As a Prevention and Policy Coordinator, Catherine is passionate about improving health outcomes for Indigenous communities. She earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Arizona State University. She is a firm believer in higher education being physical and tangible. That means talking to elders, interacting with other Indigenous leaders within communities, learning the language, and embracing sovereignty as it pertains to health. As an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation Catherine aims to use her perspective to learn, listen, and amplify voices that have been excluded from the conversations of health equity. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano, reading, playing with her dog Reader, and listening to albums by Natalia Lafourcade.

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Indigenous Evaluation Specialist

Veronica Seifert, MS

Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa

Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog. Veronica Seifert is the Indigenous Evaluation Specialist for the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF). Veronica is affiliated with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She has a Master of Science in integrated biosciences and a bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Throughout her education, she created outreach and citizen science collaborations with tribal and local communities. She has dedicated most of her academic and work experiences to improving Indigenous health outcomes. She has long appreciated Indigenous food systems and traditional practices as pathways to better health. She was raised on values tied to the land and what the land provides, and being of service to others. She is thankful to continue that work with AICAF.

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Chelsea earned a master’s degree in public health from New Mexico State University with an emphasis in administration and policy. She also earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology, history, and religious studies from the University of Kansas. Before joining AICAF, she worked as a clinical research coordinator at Mass General Brigham in Boston, where she helped design and implement preventive yoga and exercise interventions for men with prostate cancer undergoing hormone therapy. She has worked as a graduate research intern at the Brown University Mindfulness Center where she assisted on a Native-led study on mindfulness-based stress reduction for Natives with diabetes.

As a registered yoga teacher and prior resident staff at Vajrapani Institute, a meditation center in Boulder Creek, California, Chelsea is interested in using mindfulness-based techniques to promote preventive lifestyle choices, especially as they relate to psychology and nutrition. In her free time, Chelsea enjoys live music, mountain biking, snowboarding, world traveling, and hanging out with her two blue heelers.

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Cancer Programs Coordinator

Ketaki Birje, MPH

Ketaki holds a master’s degree in public health from Long Island University and earned her bachelor’s degree in dental surgery in India. Her practical approach to primary health care has allowed her to provide outstanding care to her community while improving health and wellness through patient education and community welfare. By joining the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF), Ketaki has the opportunity to address health promotion, health equity, and health disparities to try and lessen cancer burdens in Native communities. Ketaki is passionate about providing the best care to the community using evidence-based implementation strategies and having a holistic approach to health care.

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Growing up in western South Dakota, Jacob had the opportunity to learn about the culture and values of Native communities, including their strengths and their struggles. Because of this experience, he developed a deep interest in working with Indigenous people. Jacob has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in biochemistry and genetics, cell biology and development, and a minor in American Indian studies. He obtained his Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law with the intent of working to support Native people. Jacob previously worked at the Indian Child Welfare Law Center in Minneapolis, the Native law firm Swanson, Drobnick & Tousey, PC, and as a tribal attorney for the White Earth Band of Ojibwe representing survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assaults.

At the age of 23, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and has first-hand knowledge of the anxiety and fear associated with having cancer. Through this experience, Jacob learned the importance of the support given by relatives and the community. It is his commitment to work with Indigenous people and his personal connection to cancer that drew him to work at the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF). Jacob hopes to support AICAF’s community partners and work towards eliminating this disease for all people. 

Pilamaya and Chi Miigwech! 

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