With degrees in law and social work, a love for the natural environment and a commitment to her Yurok Tribe, Shaunna Oteka McCovey has no shortage of work.
McCovey grew up on the Yurok reservation outside Weitchpec without electricity or even telephones. So she busied herself with books.
On coming of age, she was "isolated and kind of floundering," but says, "I knew there was this big world out there and I wanted to be part of it." Then she attended Humboldt State's 1992 Commencement and saw her father graduate with his degree in social work.
"I said, 'This is what I want to do and this is where I want to go,'" McCovey remembers.
Four years later, she graduated from HSU with a bachelor's degree in social work, later earning a master's degree in social work from Arizona State.
McCovey put herself through school by working at Arcata's Seventh Generation Fund, an Indian advocacy organization. That experience helped solidify her environmental values. "I was able to understand how environmental justice impacted minority communities," she says.
She earned a master's degree in environmental law, then eagerly accepted a First Nations Environmental Law Fellowship at Vermont Law School, later graduating with a law degree.
Returning to Humboldt, McCovey taught and helped the HSU social work department develop a masters program for work in rural and native communities.
But the needs of her people beckoned, so McCovey went to work as staff attorney for the Yurok Tribe, California's largest Indian Tribe with nearly 5,000 enrolled members. In that role, she assisted with issues like the Klamath Dam removal. Now, as deputy executive director and self-governance officer, she's working to ensure that the Marine Life Protection Act respects the Native American way of life.
McCovey celebrates native culture in literature as well. A published author, her book of poetry is titled The Smokehouse Boys, and she contributed to Eating Fire, Tasting Blood: An Anthology of the American Indian Holocaust.
McCovey says that, over the years, she has enjoyed tremendous support from HSU faculty members acting as mentors.
"I'm very proud to have gone to Humboldt State, and of going back to teach there," she says. "I had a great experience."