Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oneida Indian Clan Mother, Maisie Shenandoah, dies at 77
Oneida Indian clan mother, Maisie Shenandoah, dies at 77
By Glenn Coin / The Post-Standard
December 02, 2009, 10:16AM

Oneida Indian clan mother Maisie ShenandoahOneida Castle, NY -- Maisie Shenandoah, an Oneida Indian Nation clan mother who was among the first to return her family to the tribe's ancestral lands, died at 3:30 a.m. today at the Oneida Castle home of her daughter, Joanne Shenandoah. She was 77.

Shenandoah and her twin sister, Elizabeth Robert, were born on Onondaga Nation land but brought their children back to the Oneida's 32-acre territory in the early 1960s when it was little more than bare land.

Shenandoah installed her nephew, Ray Halbritter, into a position of power in the tribe, but later tried to remove him and fought for traditional values as the tribe moved into high-stakes gambling with Turning Stone casino.

In the late 1980s, Shenandoah, a member of the tribe's Wolf Clan, was an instrumental force in erecting a traditional longhouse on the territory, recalled her daughter Joanne Shenandoah.

"We had that longhouse full of people dancing and singing for years," Joanne Shenandoah recalled. "We had many, many ceremonies there."

Maisie Shenandoah's funeral service will be held in the longhouse, Joanne Shenandoah said. The current Oneida Nation land straddles the border of Madison and Oneida counties, about 25 miles east of Syracuse.

Maisie Shenandoah, whose Oneida name means "She teaches," often took her six children and her extensive collection of American Indian art to local schools to talk about Oneida history. Maisie Shenandoah also continued the Oneida nation art of beadwork; some of her necklaces are in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

One of her life's goals was to re-establish a homeland for the Oneida people, Joanne Shenandoah said.

Maisie Shenandoah traveled widely, often with Joanne, a Grammy-winning singer and songwriter. The elder Shenandoah met a variety of famous musicians and politicians, and was once serenaded with "Happy Birthday" by country singer Willie Nelson.

Maisie Shenandoah was named a clan mother in 1977. Traditional Oneida society is matriarchal, and clan mothers hold the power to appoint and remove leaders. After her clashes with Halbritter in the mid-1990s, however, Maisie Shenandoah and her daughters were denied Oneida nation benefits and a voice in nation affairs.

Contact Glenn Coin at or 470-3251.

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