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The Genius of Dr. Tiya Miles

University of Michigan professor recently won a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award

(page 4 of 6)

For Miles, years earlier, this realization almost stopped her from pursuing her expertise that earned the Genius Award.

It happened during the two years that she was researching and writing her dissertation with funding from the Ford Foundation and the Dartmouth College Thurgood Marshall Dissertation Fellowship.

She was determined to find a Black/Indian “superhero” figure, like Harriet Tubman, in Southern American history. This was inspired by hearing her own grandmother’s oral history that glorified the strength and power of Afro-Indian women.

But the more Miles researched, the more her idea seemed like a fantasy. Instead, she found disturbing evidence of Native Americans disavowing African Americans.

“I felt like my heart was broken,” says Miles, who was serving as coordinator of Dartmouth’s Shabazz African American Center, where she co-organized the first national conference on African-American and Native American relations.

“I felt like, ‘How could an oppressed group of people of color disavow their historical ties with Black people when they have people of African ancestry in their tribal nation? And what does that mean about how far we have or have not come?’”

Thankfully, this motivated Miles’ academic work to “help people who stand on opposite sides of this line to find a bridge.”

But as she pursued this to write her dissertation, another incident crushed her spirit.

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