Leah Shenandoah: Protection, Comfort, Healing


Ying Lin

The O’whahsa’ exhibition reception held at the Longyear Museum of Anthropology on September 19 was an extraordinary experience. Many faculty, staff, Colgate students and non-Colgate students attended this reception to support the emerging young artist, Leah Shenandoah. Shenandoah is part of the Oneida nation wolf clan and began her artistic work during college. When she was a child she already had experience with hand works such as wampum belts. Many art pieces displayed in the Longyear Museum were done for her college thesis; some of these works contained graphics, fashion, textile and jewelry. Her artworks portray the sense of O’whahsa’, or “the hood,” which is the space for healing, comfort and protection. Shenandoah began her speech to the attendees with a song that she is soon releasing in her new album. She explained that she sings while she creates art and her hands just do the job. After her performance, Shenandoah began explaining the concept of O’whahsa’. She explained that she yearned to make Earth a happier place for people, a place with protection, healing and comfort, and that the hood symbolizes this sacred place for oneself to find comfort. Furthermore, Leah emphasized that she hopes to use her voice and art to carry out her Native American self in her own unique way.

“I was interested in the concept of the ‘Goddess Hood’ as it was called,” said junior Salote Tenisi, who attended the exhibition. “The hood protected the person from outside harm and sheltered them. Coming to an art exhibit by a Native American, I had no idea what kind of work would be present. The symbolism and the dedication of the hoods to different people in her life made the hoods stand out more than any other pieces of art there.”

Maintaing one’s own culture was also an important part of the event.

“Being a Pacific Islander, this event spoke volumes to me,” said Tenisi. “The importance of maintaining culture is critical in the community that I am from but because I go to Colgate, and am the only Tongan here, it is hard to feel connected to that identity. Attending this event has made me think more about how I could stay connected to my culture. Leah explores different themes from the Oneida in her artwork. I plan to do the same in my writing.”

Contact Ying Lin at [email protected]