Honorary Degree Citation: Shaunna Oteka McCovey

As a distinguished poet and writer, and an advocate for tribal sovereignty, you have supported Native resiliency and given hope to a new generation of visionaries, artists, and leaders.

You wrote your first poem at the age of six, while growing up on traditional Yurok land along the Klamath River. Living without electricity or telephones, you occupied your time with books, writing, and your love for the natural world.

You worked your way through college at Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, supporting cultural resilience and healthy environments for Native communities. Then you went on to earn both a master’s degree in environmental law and a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School, where you were awarded a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship. 

You have gone on to serve the Yurok Tribe as attorney, self-governance officer, and acting executive director, and to support marine planning and Tribal sovereignty with non-profit organizations like the Ocean Conservancy. You are now a compact negotiator for the U.S. Department of Interior–Indian Affairs, advocating for the self-governance of Tribes across the continent and mediating conflicts between Indian Affairs and Native nations. 

In addition to all these contributions, you have created literature with Native voices and perspectives at their center. Your poems have appeared in journals, anthologies, and your own books The Smokehouse Boys and Swim You Every River. You have contributed essays to Eating Fire, Tasting Blood: An Anthology of the American Indian Holocaust and the forthcoming Letter to a Young Native: Sovereignty is Action.

In your poem “I Still Eat All My Meals with a Mussel Shell,” you write: “If you cannot see between the lines, then your collected facts will never constitute knowledge.”

Your commitment to social justice, Indigenous self-determination, and ecological stewardship exemplify a deep sense of community engagement. Shaunna Oteka McCovey, for your life of service in keeping with the ideals of Marlboro College, it is our pleasure to confer upon you the degree: Doctor of Humane Letters.