Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Prowling around the Internet, with a little help from Maggie Dwyer, another extraordinary research librarian like Dave Lull and George Lessard, as well as a fellow member of the nineties Nat Lit listservs, I was hoping to find out what happened to some of those folks. I came across this:

Obituary for Michael Two Horses (1950-2003)

Michael Two Horses, Sicangu Lakhota/Crow Creek Dakhota, passed away recently at his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was fifty years old. His death was unexpected and peaceful.
Mr. Two Horses was Visiting Instructor in the American Indian Studies Program and the Humanities Program, within the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He was also a member of the Virginia Tech Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity. He was a doctoral student in the University of Arizona American Indian Studies Programs. His emphasis was on societies and cultures, law and public policy, and American Indian history.

Mr. 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 Viet Nam with Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, stationed first at Tay Ninh, then at Long Tranh, and was Petty Officer 2nd.

He is survived by his father, Edward Tieri of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his brother, Albert Tieri of Palm Springs, California, and a large community of friends and colleagues.

Mr. 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 the Makah whaling controversy, he formed CERTAIN, the Coalition to End Race-based Targeting of American Indian Nations. 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, Mr. 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 US Coast Guard to protect the lives and rights of the Makah people.

Mr. 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 US 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 ruthless 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."

Michael was a lawyer/soldier whom I very much respected though I never met him. He stood apart from a ragtag and opportunist pack of hounds that tried to make their own reputations by destroying others over the identity politics of Indian intellectual property. He was clear about what he was doing and careful about drawing lines. Unlike others.

It’s true enough that there have always been opportunists who were both Indian and white and who capitalized on the public’s near-worship of Indian spirituality. But the plastic shaman hunters just added another level of opportunism to build their own prestige. The worst (least restrained and most self-serving) of the plastic shaman hunters in those days were female. low-quantum, urban, somewhat educated. Margaret Mead said that armies should never allow women to join because they don’t know when to stop. I’d have to reject that as a truth statement, but there’s some observed evidence in it.

Sherman Alexie, who carries weight because his name is known from his movies as well as his books, attacked Tony Hillerman (white, writing about Indians) in his novel “Indian Killer,” but the accusation fell flat. Later he accused Tim Barrus of “stealing his heritage.” Naturally, he didn’t mean that his own heritage included child rape and abuse. At the most extreme the local “director of culture” here forbade anyone to take photos of Chief Mountain because it is sacred to the Blackfeet. I agreed with the policy to keep hikers off the mountain.

I’m not sure what good all the pursuit of the “immorality” of certain writers did, except that a lot of people -- including a lot of very talented Indian writers -- simply walked off to avoid all the blaming and rivalry. It just wasn’t worthwhile, spiritually or any other way, but the persecution revives now and then to settle scores or give a little leverage to an insecure achiever. Some of the victims are personally known to me, like Adolf Hungry-Wolf, whose four-book accumulation of First Generation material has been stiffed by scholars but remains the best single source of material on the Blackfeet anyone could have, most of it unmediated by interpretation. (Oh, those middlepersons!)

Changing the focus, Neah Bay, the topmost leftmost corner of America (except for Alaska) is a tough little rez with a hardy bunch of people. I’ve visited several times, but only in “pacific” intervals. In the midst of the true danger and need of the Makah attempt to hunt whales in the old way and though he’s in Seattle, only hours away, I never once heard Sherman Alexie comment nor do I think he went there. Michael Two Horses did.

1 comment:

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

From ROLLAND NADJIWAN, a Canadian, a grandpa, a poet (his recent book is “Seven Deer Dancing,” and an internet veteran:

I was on native literature and netrez before 1999...quite some time before as a matter of fact. In 1999, I was doing some Graduate work and sure did not have much time for the lists. I was on the web way back when the only system was PINE...very primitive compared to 1999. I don't know how long I have been on any of the lists but certainly for some time now. Our first home desktop we purchased in Tucson, AZ in 1988-89 and access was by phone lines only. I believe the most sophisticated server was AOL and cost a small fortune in access and in long distance connections. Wow...hardly even remembered that.

I have bookmarked the site (“Weaving Webs”) and will visit it with more time to pay proper attention. It is a very important topic and I do have many ideas on primary orality and cyrographics at both a communicative level and psychological impacts in transitions.

Your concluding commentary is interesting also and I do have ideas on visual/auditory media. The technology has changed phenomenally but humans have remained, basically, cavemen. Bit of a mouthful eh :) but I have thought much of it out to a variety of analytical potentials.

My wife and I had the opportunity to meet Michael some time ago at a conference. I did not know him other than online but hearing each other’s name we were drawn to each other from our common experience on the Native lists. He and my wife, Carol, got along fine also as she is a graduate of the University of Arizona American Indian Studies Program (AISP). It was really quite exhilarating to speak with him and to hear the sharing of experience in AISP from both Michael and my wife. We were speaking of him only about a month ago. We were speaking to how people on the internet can have a common experience but on the Native internet we could have a common 'cultural' experience. Our peoples, instead of adapting to the net adapted the net to our cultural expressions...a very different situation and little understood phenomenon.

Thanks for the post Mary. It is quite intriguing...keep up the good work. I deeply appreciate it.