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Singer to discuss women's rights from Iroquois perspective

Joanne Shenandoah
February 11, 2014

Singer and scholar Joanne Shenandoah was raised in an environment where women always had power.

Her mother was an Iroquois clan mother who is responsible for the political, social and spiritual welfare of the people. Similar to an elder or grandmother figure, clan mothers share wisdom and knowledge with the tribe. Iroquois women also choose their leaders.

Shenandoah will present “Women’s Rights: Iroquois Perspective” at ASU on Feb. 13. Subjects that she’ll discuss include women’s roles within the community, clan mother’s rights and responsibilities, the Iroquois influence on the Women’s Rights movement of America, and healing and change for women.

“I grew up with a wonderful identity, which was remarkable,” she said. “But, I found that there are many people around the world who treat women so differently than what the Iroquois believe.”

Shenandoah is also in the Valley for a public hearing that is being held as part of the advisory committee to examine the impact of violence on American Indian and Alaska Native youth violence. The committee that is co-chaired by Shenandoah and former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan was created last November by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Eddie Brown, ASU American Indian studies professor, is also a member of the committee.  

Work that the taskforce is doing is especially important since 69 percent of Native children experience abuse, Shenandoah said. Hearings are informative and emotional.

“They’re intense. We plan to make recommendations to the attorney general on how we can improve the welfare of children across the nation. It will be focused on Natives, but will have impact elsewhere,” she said. “If we’re not respecting one another and our children, how on Earth will we have a world where people live in harmony and balance?”

Shenandoah will also perform her music at the Musical Instrument Museum on Feb. 13. She embarked on her career after working in the computer industry for 14 years. When she noticed a tree being cut down outside of her Washington, D.C., window one day, “it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Returning to her roots and honoring her Native name, which means “she sings,” was the next logical step in her life as she began to sing contemporary folk and traditional music. She has performed with John Denver, Jackson Browne and Pete Seeger among others. A Grammy winner, she performed an original composition for the canonization celebration of the first Native American Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, at the Vatican in Rome.

“It’s been amazing to travel the world and share music with indigenous people,” she said. “I feel very thankful that I followed my true path.”

Shenandoah and her family provide educational programs worldwide, from elementary schools to universities, on subjects such as Iroquois history, coping with death, and the great law of peace and rituals of death.

Her ASU presentation is slated for noon, Feb. 13, in West Hall, room 135, on the Tempe campus. Seating is limited. Contact for information.