While the Central New York winter chill begins to creep in, South Campus residents have a new way to stay warm, enjoy the outdoors and connect with one another. Five lounging areas complete with fire pits are now available in…
Diane Schenandoah ’11 Shares Indigenous Principles and Practices as Honwadiyenawa’sek (One Who Helps Them) at the Barnes Center (With Podcast)
Firmly rooted in her Haudenosaunee heritage—her mother was a clan mother of Oneida Nation’s wolf clan; her father an Onondaga Nation chief—Schenandoah brings teachings of gratitude, faith, peace and inner resilience to students who meet with her. A wide range of healing modalities, including energy work and acupressure, art therapy, dream interpretation, tuning forks, and ritualistic smudging with sage and tobacco, are included in the toolkit she uses to help students find their center in today’s hectic world.
Schenandoah has also brought various Haudenosaunee ceremonies, customs, learning opportunities and events to campus since joining the staff—including a monthly full moon ceremony (the next one is on Wednesday, Dec. 7), monthly group meditation sessions and the introduction of sage and print copies of the Thanksgiving address in the Barnes Center pharmacy.
With November marking the celebration of Native Heritage Month, we invited Schenandoah to join the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast, where she shares about her life growing up on Oneida Nation lands with her close-knit family; her spiritual principles and practices; her role as faithkeeper; her art and singing careers; and her experience at Syracuse since joining the team at the Barnes Center.
Students interested in scheduling an appointment with Schenandoah are encouraged to call the Barnes Center at 315.443.8000 or send her an email.
Check out episode 123 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Schenandoah. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01Tell us about your first year on the job. What does holding the role of Honwadiyenawa’sek for the Syracuse University community mean to you?
It’s really been an amazing position. It’s only part-time; I’m here Monday, Tuesday and a half-day on Wednesday. There was really no definitive direction in the job description other than helping students. I’ve kind of taken it upon as my role of faithkeeper in sharing our teachings with students and some of the very basic simple teachings—be grateful for all things, have gratitude in your heart. We brought forth a Thanksgiving address. The importance of sage and cleansing. I talk with students about finding their center, their balance. A lot of students are homesick and I talk to them about our teachings: We all come here with gifts. We’re all creative beings and we need to give thanks for all things that surround us.
So that and doing energy work, showing them tools they can use in their daily life. I also use tuning forks and there are particular acupressure points. I do dream interpretation. It’s really rewarding to see a student’s face light up when they discover their own inner strengths, energy or centeredness. They can use these tools as students at SU and beyond in their lives, in their families.
We have full moon ceremonies every month to take a pause and thank Grandmother Moon. She watches over the nighttime sky. She controls the cycles of the water, the ocean tides, the planting cycles, the cycle of women. She determines our ceremonies when babies are born. Grandmother Moon is continuing her duties. We also thank water during our ceremony, and send our good thoughts and energy to the creator through tobacco burning.
02How do you think practicing gratitude can serve as an antidote to these times we're living in that can seem so frenzied and negative?
When you’re grateful for all things it gives off a certain energy inside of you—awareness of who you are, what’s in your life, what you do have as opposed to what you don’t have. Our teaching is to be grateful for all things, even tough lessons and hardships, because there are lessons that are put in front of us for specific reasons, to bring us to our highest good.
We are really so blessed because we have everything that we need from the Earth. For the most part, we have water, we have food—it’s a matter of acknowledging, looking out for and taking care of one another as a community. That’s what I try and encourage among the students here.
03Can you walk us through your typical process when you work with a student? What would their experience be like and how do you get to the bottom of what they might need or be looking for when they visit you?
I start with telling them about how the Haudenosaunee came together as a confederacy, and how we went through great wars and turmoil because we had forgotten our original instructions. We say that all peoples around the world have been given original instructions how to live as human beings on this Earth. I like to share how the Haudenosaunee were sitting in the capital of the Confederacy; we are on Onondaga Nation homeland. I try to guide them through this process of the power of forgiveness, because that’s what happened—we came to these principles of peace through love and forgiveness.
You have to love and care about yourself and understand that we have protectors and guides, that we are come here with a very specific purpose. We come here with very special gifts and those are the gifts that we need to look for, for our happiness. Nobody reminds the birds to sing in the morning, they sing in the morning because they’re happy.
So as human beings, we need to remember that that’s part of our duty here on Earth—to be happy and enjoy life. And yes, hard things happen, but there are always things to look forward to, to be grateful for. That’s when I share with them their own abilities to work with their own energy, clear their own space, clear their own mind.
The [Barnes Center] pharmacy now carries sage, and sage is a wonderful tool to clear the energy of yourself, your home, wherever you live. We talk about nature and the healing energy that it carries. The forest, if you walk into the woods and connect with the energy from the forest, they are all living beings. They are our relatives, they’re not our resources.
Then we come to the Thanksgiving address, the word spoken before all else. It is spoken before every gathering and ceremony, and it’s good to put into practice. There’s a shortened version available in the pharmacy by Chief Jake Swamp. It reminds us of all the different elements to be grateful for, and that’s how life continues, through the energy of gratitude.
04Why has it been important to you to bring traditional Indigenous initiatives and events to the campus community?
Education spaces and places of higher learning, such as Syracuse University, should take up the responsibility of sharing Indigenous culture. Syracuse has made amazing strides, even just having my position and being really supportive of Indigenous awareness.
Our history has been so buried, so erased that even many of our own people don’t realize the history that has been hidden. For example, if you drive through New York state, you’ll see historical markers all over the place, and rarely will you see one acknowledging the Native community. When you fly into Syracuse and land at the airport, there’s no acknowledgment at all of Indigenous people, when this is the birthplace of democracy. This is where the United States government fashioned their government after the [Haudenosaunee] Confederacy.
There has been so much harm done to Indigenous people—and to other races as well, this is true—but Indigenous peoples’ history has been so buried in education. When I was in high school, there were only five paragraphs that talked about us and [the textbook] didn’t even call us Haudenosaunee—they called us Iroquois which is a French word for “snake heads” or something like that. It’s really a terrible injustice of even the knowledge coming out.
I’m proud of Syracuse University and the steps the University is taking. I think educating our community is one of my main focuses here. They wanted to title me Indigenous healer, but I think the only healer there is is our creator. “One who helps them” is very befitting because I think that bringing about awareness of Indigenous people is so important.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.