Integrating Indigenous Wisdom with Systems Change: The Insights of Dr. Melanie Goodchild

Presencing Institute
Field of the Future Blog
5 min readMar 26, 2024

By Patricia Bohl, in conversation with Melanie Goodchild

Melanie Goodchild, Anishinaabe (Ojibway) complexity and systems thinking scholar, moose clan from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg and Ketegaunseebee First Nations sharing teachings and preparing ceremony.

In the tranquil landscapes of Vermont’s Green Mountains, a profound exchange of knowledge and perspectives takes place at the Executive Champions Workshop (ECW), a gathering designed to foster learning and transformation. Founded by Peter Senge in the late ’90s and enriched by the hearts and minds of Arawana Hayashi, Melanie Goodchild, and Otto Scharmer, the workshop sits with the power of slowing down and engaging with the world in profoundly different ways. In this article, Dr. Melanie Goodchild, a distinguished figure known for her pioneering work in weaving Anishinaabe teachings with modern change methodologies, shares some of her experiences and learnings with Patricia Bohl from the Presencing Institute. The upcoming ECW serves as a dynamic backdrop for this exchange, emphasizing reflective practice and systemic thinking.

A Journey of Depth and Connection

“We’re all indigenous to Mother Earth.”

Dr. Goodchild, of the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) moose clan, brings over three decades of experience working with First Nations communities. Her journey from applied sociology to embracing Anishinaabe and decolonial methodologies reflects a deep commitment to addressing complex systems challenges. Her narrative is not just a story of personal transformation but a testament to the power of blending traditional indigenous knowledge with innovative approaches to catalyze meaningful systemic change. She emphasizes the critical role of connecting with the land and oneself as foundational to understanding and addressing the complex dynamics of our world.

Indigenous Wisdom and Systems Change

Melanie’s work is deeply rooted in Anishinaabe Gikendaasowin (original ways of knowing), which she integrates with complexity-aware tools to foster innovation. Her approach challenges traditional narratives, advocating for a decolonial perspective that honors indigenous wisdom alongside contemporary methodologies. This blend of knowledge systems, Melanie argues, is essential for tackling the multifaceted challenges our societies face today.

“I offer tobacco to people who don’t have it. I travel with my medicine bundle and I offer that to people so they can make an offering of gratitude and acknowledge the ancestors and the spirits and the energy that’s in a place, particularly. So at ECW, we’re acknowledging the Green Mountains, the traditional territory of the Abenaki peoples, and acknowledging those big, beautiful trees and all the plants and medicines that are there. Because that’s what’s holding this space, not just a tent and chairs in a field. It’s like the whole land is holding us.”

One of the core aspects of Melanie’s participation in ECW was the offering of asemaa (tobacco) to the land, a practice deeply ingrained in Anishinaabe culture. This act of offering represents a communication tool, a bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds, emphasizing gratitude and humility. Through such practices, participants are invited to connect with the land in a respectful and reciprocal manner, acknowledging its significance beyond a mere physical space.

Relational Systems Thinking: A New Paradigm

“I would hope that in navigating the future that’s emerging, we are open to different ways of understanding the world. There’s a kinship system that we have as Ojibwe people with Mother Earth, and those elements of that kinship system would serve us well when we start to talk about things like climate change and the shifts that we have to make to become more ecocentric.”

Dr. Goodchild’s insights into relational systems thinking highlight the importance of integrating indigenous perspectives with systems thinking and complexity science. This approach, she argues, is not only about acknowledging indigenous knowledge systems but engaging with them in a way that respects their depth and applicability to contemporary challenges. The discussion of the Two-Row Wampum Belt, for instance, illustrates how different worldviews can coexist and enrich each other, offering a framework for collaborative and transformative change.

The Power of Connection and Reflection

“We can read books and think about, and talk about connecting with the land and why that’s important. Oh, we should reconnect with Mother Earth or connect with nature or beyond the land. But the ‘How’ is how to do that in a spiritual way, in a respectful way with reciprocity. And it’s different than the utilitarian or usefulness of the land as like natural resources. The land is very healing, and the elders will say, the land does the work.”

The conversation shifts to the transformative potential of reconnecting with the land. Melanie emphasizes the importance of engaging with the earth not as a resource but as a teacher, a source of healing and wisdom. This connection, facilitated by ceremonies and reflective practices, is more than a symbolic gesture; it is a pathway to rekindling a profound relationship with the natural world, one that is essential for personal and collective transformation.

Challenges and Opportunities in Leadership Education

“I would invite people to show up with their full authentic selves, their miinigoowizing, their knowledge bundle. We are all coming there with a sacred knowledge bundle, including the facilitators. We’ll be the ones that may be offering things, but the experience is a collective wisdom journey.”

Reflecting on her experiences with executive leadership programs, Dr. Goodchild critiques the colonial underpinnings of conventional corporate training. She advocates for spaces that embrace authenticity and allow for the full expression of one’s knowledge bundle. The ECW, in this light, represents a collective wisdom journey, emphasizing the importance of communal learning and the sharing of diverse perspectives.

Closing Thoughts: An Invitation to Authentic Engagement

As the interview concludes, Melanie extends an invitation to future ECW participants and facilitators alike: to approach the workshop as an opportunity to engage authentically, bringing their whole selves to the experience. This collective journey of wisdom, she notes, is not just about individual learning but about fostering a community of shared understanding and growth.

In her parting words, Dr. Goodchild expresses gratitude for the opportunity to share her insights and experiences. Her message is clear: the path to systemic change is paved with openness, humility, and a deep respect for the myriad ways of knowing that our world holds.

Watch the full interview below:

Links to Resources:

Goodchild, M. (2021). Relational Systems Thinking: That’s How Change is Going to Come, From Our Earth Mother. Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, 1(1), 75–103.

Goodchild, M. (2022). Relational Systems Thinking: The Dibaajimowin (Story) of Re-Theorizing “Systems Thinking” and “Complexity Science”. Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, 2(1), 53–76.

Dialogues on Transformation of Society and Self, DoTS Episode 6, Melanie Goodchild on Indigenous Wisdom and the Civilizational Shift from Ego to Eco,

Two-Row Wampum Belt:,

Four directions medicine wheel: