Melissa L. Pope currently serves as the Chief Judge of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribal Court. She has been consistently reappointed by Tribal Council since February 2011 with the most recent four-year appointment made in December 2022. Judge Pope has also served in the elected position of Chief Justice of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Court of Appeals since 2009. In addition, Judge Pope has been teaching American Indian Law as a Member of the Adjunct Faculty at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law since 2007.
Judge Pope has been actively engaged in the Anti-Violence Movement throughout her life. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1992, she worked in the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives where she had the honor of working with many communities through which she gained an understanding of the shared experiences of marginalized communities. She also became an advocate to end violence against women through involvement with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Women’s Forum, and Take Back the Night. She further facilitated the Student Delegation of the Four Directions Council, an Indigenous non-governmental organization, that successfully advocated for recognition of traditional Indigenous methods for developing and sustaining populations for the 1995 United Nations Conference on Population and Development held in Egypt.
After earning her Juris Doctor Degree in 1999 from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Judge Pope worked at Cooley. Although her duties were primarily administrative, she continued to facilitate social justice programming, including holding the first Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Program. While on the Oakland University Campus, she also became involved with the S.A.F.E. Program, an educational program designed to not only educate about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Questioning community, but serve as a resource to LGBITQ students, faculty, and staff.
Judge Pope next served as staff attorney for the Women’s Survival Center of Oakland County. The WSC Legal Program provided legal services to Survivors of domestic violence with Staff Attorneys representing Victims in the most severe of cases, in part due to the significant commitment of time required in these cases. While WSC closed more than a year after she began employment due to lack of funding, Judge Pope continued representation of her clients at the time of closure through the conclusion of every case. While serving as the staff attorney at WSC, she gained extensive knowledge about the dynamics of domestic violence, the challenges Survivors face within the legal system, and the significant need for training about domestic violence generally and within marginalized communities.
Judge Pope continued in the Anti-Violence Movement by next serving as the first director of victim services at Triangle Foundation, now Equality Michigan. She provided direct services to Victims of anti-LGBTIQ violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and discrimination. The data she collected and reported on the overwhelming level of violence experienced and the discrimination LGBTIQ Victims faced in accessing the legal system, medical services, and victim services, furthered her commitment to the fundamental belief that equality for one community can only be achieved through the equality of all.