Virginia Tech Visiting Professor Dies
Michael Two Horses, who was affiliated with the Sicangu Lakota and Wahpekute Dakota tribes, passed away recently at his home in Blacksburg, Va. He was 50 years old. His death was unexpected and peaceful.
Two Horses started at Virginia Tech last fall as visiting instructor in the American Indian Studies Program and the Humanities Program, within the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. He was also a member of the Virginia Tech Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity.
A memorial service for Two Horses will be held on Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the War Memorial Chapel at Virginia Tech.
The university's Jan. 19th Diversity Summit will be dedicated to Two Horses, according to Ben Dixon, vice president for multicultural affairs. The Diversity Summit is a major university gathering intended to promote a climate of diversity on campus. A scholarship in Two Horses' name for American Indian Studies has been initiated. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that well-wishers make contributions to the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc., Office of University Development, 201 Pack Building (0336), Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061, Attn: Michael Two Horses Scholarship Fund; or to the social activism causes of their choice, in the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, the philosophy which Two Horses practiced.
Two Horses received his undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from Washington State University, and his M.A from the University of Arizona in American Indian Studies. He completed a year of study at Kansas School of Law in the Tribal Law Program, and then opted to pursue his master's degree and Ph.D. from Arizona. His emphasis was on societies and cultures, law and public policy, and American Indian history.
Two Horses was born in San Diego to Alberta Mariana Bertino and David Two Horses Jordan, and adopted at six months of age by Edward and Sadie Lou Tieri. He served in Vietnam with the Navy's Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, stationed first at Tay Ninh, then at Long Tranh, and was Petty Officer 2nd Class.
He is survived by his father, Edward Tieri of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his brother, Albert Tieri of Palm Springs, Calif., and a large community of friends and colleagues.
Two Horses will be remembered for his exhaustively brilliant research and writing and his passionately honest dedication to human rights, particularly with respect to American Indian treaty rights, spiritual rights, and cultural rights. During an escalation of the ongoing Makah whaling controversy, he formed the Coalition to End Race-based Targeting of American Indian Nations (CERTAIN) in 2000. He went repeatedly to Neah Bay while anti-whaling forces were threatening school children, harassing the Makah people, and threatening the lives of the whalers. With CERTAIN, Two Horses engaged the opponents of the Makah's treaty rights in dialogue, countering their arguments in the media, taking photographs and witnessing to protect the Makah from further physical attack, and acting in conjunction with the Washington Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard to protect the lives and rights of the Makah people.
Two Horses was equally engaged in expanding the scholastic dialogue. He persistently pointed out elements of racism in the dominant cultural perspective on American Indians, in the face of pedagogical tendencies to trivialize these concerns. He declined to acquiesce to that marginalization in the discourse.
He investigated the growing rift between mainstream environmentalists and tribal nations across the United States and Canada, and the way that much environmental writing fails to consider the role of indigenous peoples in shaping the so-called "wilderness." "They did not want to acknowledge," he wrote, "in much the same way as colonial writers did, that the human hand has always shaped this continent, and that in creating false constructs of 'pristine wilderness' and of cities as 'fallen' areas, such writing tends to avoid completely the contested lands where members of marginalized races or classes live, and fails to deal with the concept of 'national sacrifice areas' in human terms, inasmuch as the Indians, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and poor Whites living in those areas are sacrificed as well. These are zones where uranium mines and coal mines and their pollution of groundwater, or toxic waste dumps are located, without exception, in proximity to marginalized peoples."
He was relentless in his opposition toward "plastic shamans," people white or native who hawk Indian spirituality. "They abstract bits of our culture," he said, "and then they sell them as the genuine article, something along the lines of taking parts of the Catholic liturgy and extracting the 'cool parts' and then performing those parts for money. This is the deepest essence of what they do, and it is comprised of both 'snake oil sales' and of a deep disrespect for Native cultures."
Condolences may be sent to the family of Michael Two Horses, c/o American Indian Studies Program, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Virginia Tech, 0227, Blacksburg, VA 24061.