For the First Time, A Native American Woman Scholar's Portrait Hangs At Oxford
By: Kelsey Leonard
In its information about the exhibition, the Bodleian states, "Hundreds of portraits of exceptional individuals hang on the walls of the University of Oxford: shaping our past, making visible our values for the future, and helping shape the present environment. 'The full picture: Oxford in portraits' displays new portraits of a diverse range of people selected from over a hundred nominations of living Oxonians."
The portrait of Kelsey is unique in many ways, but one that cannot go unmentioned is the biography of the artist, her sister, Courtney Leonard. Courtney is an artist and filmmaker, whose work is an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and her artistic practice investigates narratives of cultural viability as a reflection of environmental record. It was a perfect choice by the Diversifying Portraiture project to select Courtney to paint the portrait of her sister Kelsey, the "water scholar" to fully capture their Indigenous culture as Shinnecock, which means "People of the Shore".
Kelsey Leonard represents the Shinnecock Indian Nation as the Tribal Co-Lead on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body of the U.S. National Ocean Council. This planning body consisting of tribal, federal, and state entities is charged with guiding the protection, maintenance, and restoration of America's oceans and coasts. As a Shinnecock citizen and environmental leader, Kelsey strives to be a strong advocate for the protection of Indigenous waters through enhanced interjurisdictional coordination and meaningful consultation. She has been instrumental in protecting the interests of Tribes with the development of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan and building a sustainable ocean future by valuing Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge. This unprecedented partnership with Tribal Nations for regional ocean planning is a testament to tribal sovereignty but also an important step towards ensuring federal trust responsibilities. She received a Peter Benchley Ocean Award in May 2017 for 'Excellence in Solutions' for her contributions to the U.S. National Ocean Policy and regional ocean planning.
Kelsey Leonard explained the significance of her portrait, stating: "As a Native American student the opportunity to study at Oxford was one of the greatest blessings in my life, but it came with many challenges. One of the greatest challenges was leaving my family and Indigenous community to live and learn at an institution where I was the only Native student. Oftentimes, I was the first Native American many Oxford faculty and peers had ever met. After becoming the first Native American woman to graduate from the University there are now scholarships for Native students to attend Oxford where none previously existed. The portraiture project is the next step in building an Oxford that is representative of the global student body so that we may see ourselves reflected throughout the University's symbolism. Moreover, I hope my portrait inspires other Native scholars to pursue studies at Oxford and for those who do end up walking its storied hallways I hope they find comfort in the portraits knowing they too belong and are not alone in their journey."
Kelsey is the first Native American woman to earn a degree from the University of Oxford. She matriculated at St. Cross College in 2010 and studied Water Science, Policy, and Management at the School of Geography and the Environment. Prior to attending Oxford, she received her B.A. (2010) in Anthropology and Sociology from Harvard University. After Oxford, Kelsey Leonard went on to receive her Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law. In 2016 she was recognized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development as an emerging leader in Indian Country for her leadership, initiative, and dedication.
Leonard blends her Indigenous rights advocacy with water scholarship at McMaster University where she is a distinguished Philomathia Water Policy Fellow. Leonard's current research examines the norms, dynamics and mechanisms that underlie the management structure, composition, and politics of Indigenous water governance and how Indigenous Nations bordering Canada and the United States build resiliency in response to ecological changes and altered human activities. Leonard's work is centered in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin and investigates the interjurisdictional coordination of Indigenous Nations, the United States, and Canada for transboundary water governance.
The Leonard sisters are enrolled citizens of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.
The exhibition is running in Blackwell Hall in the Weston Library until 7th January 2018. Admission is free and no booking is required. More information about the exhibition is available on the Bodleian Libraries' website (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/