Joanne Shenandoah: Women’s Song
On the Life and Death of my wife Joanne Shenandoah
Monday, December 6, 2021

• OBITUARY: Joanne Shenandoah-Tekaliwakwa, 1957-2021

In 1976 I was staying on St. Regis Island at the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.

In June of that year I was laying outside during a warm late spring night when a circular band of northern lights appeared above me. I was able to see beyond the darkness into my future. I saw many events which have taken place but there was one which has had the most influence on my life.

I saw a beautiful Native woman dressed in blue denim come out of a room in a house and place I did not recognize. I was stunned by her presence and realized this would be my wife. I did not know how, where or when but it was certain to happen as was the vision of my death which was equally as specific.

Joanne Shenandoah-Tekaliwakwah
Joanne Shenandoah-Tekaliwakwah, 1957-2021. Courtesy photo

Fourteen years would pass before that woman was revealed. In November of 1990 Jake Swamp asked me to drive to Oneida to visit with Maisie Shenandoah, the wolf clan mother. Unknown to me, or Joanne, Jake and Maisie had a secret plan to introduce us and see if there was an attraction.

There was — as soon as Jo entered the room I knew with certainty we would marry but she did not. It took a visit to a seer at Ohsweken to begin to convince her our infant relationship would become a marriage now three decades along and one in which we made history.

We took our vows in Hawaii with a Native elder speaking words in his language and, as I tell the story, unknown to us but we made promises which became stronger, more vivid, as the years passed. She was not only exceptionally beautiful but gracious, remarkably talented and blessed with natural charisma; she was also given to marvelous laughter. I would sit in our home in Oneida and, without her noticing, gaze upon her astounded by my great fortune in being her partner.

That she died awaiting a liver transplant was shocking. She had complications from an infection in 2015 which left that organ scarred. She went through bouts of illness over the next 6 years. At one time Jo was scheduled for a transplant but made an almost miraculous recovery only to have a relapse this past August.

Three months of sickness followed. She was transported by air ambulance to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for a liver transplant but on the morning of November 22 a large blood vessel in her liver shattered and the bleeding could not be stopped before she went into cardiac arrest.

I was holding her as her heart stopped and the light in her eyes faded. She was on her journey along the star path. I always thought that given the long life of her ancestors I would die first but then I recalled the time of my passage which will take place when the cornstalks have yellowed. I leave a house and look back but Jo is not there — it is empty of people. I will then lie in the cornfield and leave.

As of this time I have a few more tasks to complete and places to go but I have every confidence Joanne will be there to renew our devotion as she sang, wait for me in this world and the next.


Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a residential school survivor. He was given the number 4-8-2-738. He serves as the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He previously served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288.