Reverence and Care for Voice: A Lesson First-Year of Grad School

On Friday morning, May 13, 2018, I finished the first year of my two-year graduate program. The entire first-year of my program taught me quite a bit, especially as I continue to navigate settler colonialism in all its forms as I have alluded to in a prior blog post.

Before this semester began, my mom told me that I am a strong person. Since our conversation, and since my return back to Narragansett lands, I have been contemplating how that strength might turn up.

Well, I have learned that being a survivor, being a fighter, requires that I be visible. Growing up, I avoided using the voice I was blessed with. Oftentimes, avoiding the spotlight of media. This past semester taught me that I needed to start using my voice.

In Diné ways of knowing, we are taught: 

hazaad baa áholjilyá – having reverence and care of speech.

In our creation stories, we are taught that our voice and our breath are gifts from the Holy People. When I silence my voice, I silence the voice of my ancestors. I refuse the Holy Peoples’ gifts. Disrespecting them and myself in the process.

I had to situate the teaching of hazaad baa áholjilyá into my everyday practice. Hazaad baa áholjilyá requires that I be patient with myself, and with others (though not at the point of catering to colonial violence). Hazaad baa áholjilyá demands that I develop a sustainable approach to how I challenge people and how I challenge systems. Hazaad baa áholjilyá encourages me to love who I was, who I am, and who I will become.

So, in the span of five months, I have accomplished things that I did not envision a year ago. I presented at two conferences, one at Harvard University and another at Providence College. Both workshops were on how educators/administrators can support, and even encourage Native/Indigenous students’ sense of belonging.

I was invited to speak 4 times at four different venues in 3 different cities. I presented on how we, Native/Indigenous Peoples, understand leadership and activism via Google Hangouts at Michigan State University.

I spoke at Harvard University on how Native/Indigenous peoples conceptualize gender and sexuality, the limitations of two-spirit identity, and advocating for how we need to move beyond romanticizing our ancestors.

In Washington, DC, and Indianapolis, I urged non-profit organizations and policymakers to re-focus on and re-frame how we understand equity and access to higher education for Native/Indigenous students, Undocumented students, Black students, and many more of us who are often forced to the margins.

Yet, in all of my achievements and success, I try to remain critical of why I am being invited, who attends my sessions, and who is willing to listen to my voice. This was something I also learned about in my classes, when I spoke, how I spoke, and who will listen.

Because, at the end of the day, everything is strategic. How I delivered what I speak, the tone of my voice, the way that I dress; all of which was and continues to be important.

Hazaad baa áholjilyá is not only specific to my physical voice; it also includes the voice in my writing. Throughout this year, I realized that my best writing occurs when I integrate my own ways of knowing and that of the academy, showing reverence and having care in what I write and who I write for, with an emphasis on centering my community’s worldview, beliefs, values, etc.

At this very moment, I have proposed a scholarly paper on the continued process of assimilation in higher education and, I am very proud to say, that I am in the midst of having a chapter published in a book (for the second time) in a book that centers the narratives of professionals of color navigating higher education. In my chapter, I grapple with my decision to be in a very colonized space, education, and how I want to navigate and how I need to navigate it.

What I am realizing is that I need to be visible. Through my visibility, I am not only amplifying my voice; I am amplifying the voices of my ancestors and the voices of my community. I need to have reverence and care for what I speak, how I speak, and who I speak with and for. I chose to be in this space. I am blessed to have learned and continue to learn the teachings of my ancestors while also having access to spaces historically and continuing denied to many in my community, and other communities as well. I have an obligation to my community, and other communities as well, to ensure we survive and thrive in such spaces. 

I end this blog post with a quote from an assignment in one of my classes. The goal of the assignment was to write a personal mission statement. It is titled: Divinity and Morality: A Diné Professional Philosophy.

“I am informed by forms of consciousness, ancestral and colonialism, that I must be critical of my creation and socializations. I will be generous, kind, and assertive of myself through humility and daily appreciations. I am of the divine and mortal, and must be aware of both my strength and my limitations. It is my responsibility as a sacred being endowed with the wisdom and knowledge of my ancestors to be competent, to be empathetic, to be intentional, to be authentic, to be truthful, and to be attuned to the needs of my body, my heart, my mind, my spirit, my ancestors, my family, and my community (Scott, 2017a) within my various lives – as a child, as a sibling, as a guardian, as a healer, as a teacher, as a professional, as a scholar, and as a human being” (Scott, 2017b).

post-final presentation/class photo.
photo credit: Britt Locklin


Scott, C. (2017a). Divinity and Mortality: A Diné Professional Philosophy. Kingston, RI.

Scott, C. (2017b). Professional Role Choice Narrative. Kingston, RI


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