Whether we sat in a language class at the Nation school, or felt her constant presence at our Longhouse, maybe we went to her for guidance, or began a conversation with, “How do you say_ _ _?” We feel the loss
of our elder Audrey Shenandoah. During an interview which aired on radio several years ago, I wrote this poem for her. The subject was ‘Women who had an influence in your life.’ Other than my own Mother, Audrey, Gonwaianni was one of those individuals. She worked hard and shared so much with all of us.
For Gonwaianni ,
Ah ga has.
Whenever you met, you and my Mom would talk
Downtown, waiting for the bus in front of the White Tower
Or in the wooden aisles of the Easy Bargain Center
Your whole face smiled, your eyes crinkled at the edges
I never knew what you talked about
I just knew you were a friend
As a child
I thoroughly enjoyed those trips downtown with my Mother
I went away to school and came back to the Nation- credentialed
But with oh, so much to learn.
It was an exciting time
Our community pushed for changes in the school curriculum
To enhance the identity of our children
To include our way of life
You were always respectful, calm, deliberate.
You would remain at the school for 31 years.
You were a teacher, mentor, advisor, linguist, and an elder. All the
while you were a wife, grandma, great-grandma, sister…and
You continued to smile.
You would travel the earth on behalf of indigenous peoples
Share the stage with some of the most notable world leaders
And always come home, unchanged.
When my world crumbled and I couldn’t think, couldn’t function.
You came. You offered your wisdom, You offered soft words to sooth my
And you came back.
“The winds continue to blow,” you said. “The Creation is still doing
And you had that smile.
We sat around your table, immersed in our words,
in ongwehonwe ka.
We were young women eager to learn.
You went around the table, you knew if we didn’t study.
Gentle nudging, yet imperative
The messages, stories, meanings you shared around your table
We listened hard.
Your gift of knowledge and of life to all the young minds of our
community is enormous
We thank you for every lesson, big and small.
I’ll keep close your teachings.
And always have the memory of your smile.
Ah ga has.