Doctoral Candidate Ionah Scully Named an NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow

School of Education doctoral candidate Ionah M. Elaine Scully, Michel First Nation (Cree-Métis and Irish) has been awarded a prestigious National Academy of Education NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship for the 2023-2024 academic year. They are one of 35 awardees from a pool of more than 350 applicants.

Ionah Scully headshotHolding a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and certificates of advanced study in Conflict Resolution from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and in Women’s and Gender Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences, Scully’s research involves storytelling, Indigenous methodologies, land pedagogy, and Two Spirit critiques.

Scully adds this fellowship to their New York Public Humanities Grant (2021), University of California Davis’ Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) fellowship (2019), and SU’s LGBT Resource Center Social Justice Award (2016), as well as awards for excellence in teaching, activism, writing, scholarship, and land-based education initiatives. Scully also is a professional dancer and dance instructor who has been one of the most sought-after teachers and performers in Upstate New York.

A member of the University’s Intergroup Dialogue Program (IGD), a theory and practice-based initiative of social justice education, Scully has created an Indigenized IGD course—offered in community, school, and higher-education settings—that employs land, Two Spirit, and other Indigenous pedagogies to create generative dialogue and communities of care and learning across difference.

Scully teaches foundations of education, gender studies, and Native studies, describing their teaching philosophy as publicly engaged, activist, and holistic. In their courses, they encourage multi-sensory learning, the mitigation of classroom hierarchies, and addressing equity issues to move learning toward antiracist ends.

About Ionah Scully’s Doctoral Thesis

Scully’s dissertation—”Nehiyaw Two Spirit Creation Stories: Re-mapping Home, Desire, and Indigenous Education Through the Body”—brings together Two Spirit (Native 2SLGBTQIA+) people of Michel First Nation (MFN) to dialogue about Nehiyaw (Cree) creation stories and subsequently recreate—or re-map—their own creation stories as Two Spirit (2S) people to understand how these stories can support Indigenous and decolonizing educational practices.

2S scholars argue that anti-colonial projects must center 2S futurity because they experience the highest rates of gender violence of any demographic—violence endemic to the ongoing colonial project.

This scholarship is immersed in an Indigenous epistemology of contextuality, temporality, and relational accountability that undergirds the entire project design. Told as teaching stories, creation stories must necessarily change as they pass through different time periods and bodies of human storytellers and audiences (as well as different bodies of lands/waters) to impart teachings that are pertinent to context and attentive to relations.

Across six Talking Circles, participant-collaborators are given critical prompts rooted in miskâsowin. A Nehiyaw practice, miskâsowin invites participant-collaborators to integrate mind and body-knowing as a mechanism for coming home (to bodies, desires, Nehiyaw ontologies, and perhaps homelands) to counteract the colonial project’s attempts to dispossess 2S people of life and home.

A project of homecoming that centers 2S desires, the resulting stories are shared in an anthology for use by educators and MFN as well as 2S communities broadly to consider their responsibility to the stories, what these stories teach, and how they provide prompts to craft their own stories.

Glossary of Italicized Terms

Notes written by Ionah Scully

Two Spirit (Native 2SLGBTQIA+)

Two Spirit (2S) is a term coined during a gathering of Native LGBTQIA+ communities in Manitoba in 1990 after Oji-Cree 2S elder Myra Laramee described it as to “see it both worlds.” Not to be conflated with trans* identities nor with someone who is both male/female, Two Spirit is a sovereign term only for Native people of the Americas to disrupt the harmful ways anthropology has described Native LGBTQIA+ people, to express solidarity across Indigenous nations, and to highlight that gender and sexual diversity has existed in Indigenous nations across the Americas prior to colonial contact and since time immemorial.

Michel First Nation

The Michel First Nation (MFN) is one of many diverse First Nations of Indigenous peoples across Canada. MFN is a Cree nation of people who are also of Mohawk/Haudenosaunee, Métis, and/or Dene (among other) lineages whose traditional territory encompasses a large portion of land from present-day Edmonton to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Nehiyaw (Cree) creation stories

Creation stories are stories that recount the origins of Indigenous peoples and how nations peoples have come to be Indigenous to a particular land/territory.

Decolonizing educational practices

In the US and Canada, Indigenous boarding/residential schools were responsible for the education of Native families and children. Children were often stolen from their homes and forced to attend these schools, a practice that began in the mid-19th century with the last schools closing in Canada in the 1990s.
Children in the schools were punished for speaking their language, practicing their customs, “performing gender” that did not align with the Christian schools’ values (i.e., boys had to cut their hair short and girls were forced to do housework). Children were given Christian names and any deviance from these norms was punished harshly. In Canada, thousands of mass graves of residential school attendees have been found under the sites of former schools, while US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has opened an inquiry into US-based residential schools.
These schools had violent impacts on families and leave a legacy of trauma and settler colonial-imposed values on Indigenous ways of thinking, knowing, and learning that can be difficult to unravel. In particular, Native education is land-based, collaborative, relationship-oriented, and rooted in place and language as opposed to settler-colonial education that is driven by individualism, competition, and mastery.

2S futurity

Futurity is a concept described by Black and Indigenous communities as a way to express hope for having futures that are liberated from anti-Black violence and settler colonialism.

Highest rates of gender violence

A recent study from the Sovereign Bodies Institute* has shown that at least 90%** of Two Spirit/Native LGBTQIA+ people have experienced some type of bodily violence (sexual assault/rape, murder or attempted murder, domestic violence, and/or physical assault) at least twice in their lifetime. This number is likely higher due to reporting that often misgenders trans people in death as well as the dearth of research conducted on Native peoples’ experiences as a whole.



Indigenous epistemology of contextuality, temporality, and relational accountability

Indigenous epistemologies—or ways of knowing and worldviews—recognize the inherent relationship that exists among all living beings. To be in relationship does not mean that conflict does not exist; rather to be in relationship therefore requires one attends to their responsibility to all relations in order for both the individual and the whole to thrive.
Embedded in this context of relationships being at the center of Indigenous epistemology is the concept, too, that knowledge can only be made contextually—within a set of relationships or in a given time period. In short, meaning and knowledge can and should vary among different sets of relations as well as in different periods of time and contexts.

Teaching stories

Creation stories are used as teaching stories, many of which teach both the history of Cree people as well as important teachings about what it means to be a good Cree relative. Storytelling, in general, is an Indigenous teaching practice as it allows the storyteller to build a relationship with the audience (and vice versa) to enact the Indigenous epistemology of relational pedagogy or teaching.

Talking Circles

Talking Circles are Indigenous spaces of dialogue with one another and represent equality, harmony, and the importance of listening.


Miskâsowin is a Cree term. It is a practice of deep, internal reflection on one’s relationship to land/place including those who are Indigenous to those lands in order to know who one is and to come to knowledge.

Mind and body-knowing

Mind-body knowing are practices of using intellectual reflection as well as sensory experiences from the body (including emotions) to come to knowledge.

Coming home/homecoming

To come home—to Indigenous languages, worldviews/epistemologies, and to Indigenous homelands—is a concept discussed by Indigenous people as a decolonial practice. Whereas the project of colonization has attempted to dispossess Indigenous people of land and/or kill or relocate Indigenous people, to come home is to refuse the projects and stay firmly rooted in Indigenous land and epistemologies.

An anthology

A collection of the stories that emerge from this doctoral project is expected to be published digitally in an online anthology in order to capture stories that may be shared in audiovisual format.

Learn more about School of Education doctoral programs or contact Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment Speranza Migliore.