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A Tribute to Joanne Shenandoah


It is with great sadness that the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and the former members of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence acknowledge the passing of our friend, colleague, and songbird, Joanne Shenandoah, PhD.


The Native American Music Awards & Association posted on its website that Shenandoah, described as “Native America’s musical matriarch,” died Monday night in Scottsdale, Arizona, after complications of abdominal bleeding. “Joanne’s beautiful embellishing voice, strong Iroquois traditions, unequivocal elegance and courteous grace made her a prominent role model and highly respected musical matriarch among Native American communities as well as the mainstream music community at large,” the organization said. “She sang with deep roots from her ancestors and flawlessly incorporated her oral traditions into contemporary Folk, Country and Americana formats.”


We were very fortunate and honored to have walked alongside Joanne over the course of seven different National Indian Nations: Justice for Victims of Crime in Indian Country Conferences and in her role as Co-Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. Joanne first performed at the December 2016 conference and then performed and presented workshops focused on Healing through Music at each of the six conferences thereafter in December 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Joanne always brought a sense of healing and centering with her words and her music. 

Joanne also served as the Co-Chair (with former Senator Bryon Dorgan) of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. She took to heart her role as Co-Chair to address violence against American Indian and Alaska Native children. In times of heartbreaking stories of childhood harm, Joanne delighted in bringing music and words of affirmation into all of the Advisory Committee public hearings and discussions since healing was such an important part of her life’s work. Joanne’s sense of healing and centering with her words and her music is reflected throughout the Advisory Committee’s 2014 final report entitled Stopping Violence so Children can Thrive. A spirited Warrior Woman, Joanne still maintained her gentle and positive demeanor to call attention to how important it was to acknowledge and address the injustices and disparities that exist for American Indian and Alaska Native children. 


“A gentle drum beat is sounding as Joanne Shenandoah holds her drum while softly singing an Oneida lullaby of love and giving. She holds her head upward, closes her eyes, and sweeps all those listening into the sway of her native tongue with sounds that have echoed for generations among her ancestors. Now that gentle drum beat is silenced, as Joanne Shenandoah has closed her eyes for the last time and she is walking her spirit journey with her ancient ones.”

Dee Bigfoot, Advisory Committee Member

Joanne Shenandoah left us with many beautiful recordings in words and music, but two of the most poignant at this moment are Feather in the Wind, a song about someone moving on to the Spirit World, and Missing You, a song for Missing, Murdered, and Exploited Indigenous Indian Women and Girls that Joanne wrote and performed, now that the refrain is being repeated by those of us who are left in sorrow.