Biographical / Historical
Teriananda was born in Manhattan in 1947, where she grew up and has continued to live throughout her adult life. Teriananda's father, born in Brooklyn, became a financial officer and independent scholar, her mother, born in British Guiana (now Guyana), was a classical pianist who immigrated to the United States and later became an editorial assistant, working part-time during Teriananda's childhood. Her parents instilled in Teriananda a belief that she was "a citizen of the world." She studied ballet as a youngster, and, as a teenager, immersed herself in the artistic and intellectual milieu of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. An improperly diagnosed back injury while she was a senior in high school resulted in severe back problems in the 1970s that have persisted throughout her life.
Teriananda became interested in indigenous struggles in the 1970s following a "back crisis" that almost took her life yet proved to be psychically transformative. In seeking to know who she was, she realized she needed to know where she was, and this led her to ask who the original inhabitants of the continent were. She soon became involved in activist struggles for indigenous rights, and worked with a number of Native American groups during the 1970s and 1980s, including, among other things, the International Treaty Council's attempts to found the U.N.'s permanent Working Group on Indigenous People, support for Yvonne Wanrow and Leonard Peltier, the issue of uranium contamination from mining on Native American land, and the problem of the Joint Land Use Area near Big Mountain on the Hopi and Navajo reservations.
Teriananda also worked on issues surrounding the AIDS crisis after the death of several friends from this disease. She had become familiar with the possibilities of natural medicines, partly through contact with traditional Native teachers, and she became active promoting the benefits of nutritional, herbal and other natural therapies to sufferers of AIDS. As Teriananda's own health issues persisted and worsened, she turned to Tibetan Buddhism, and has devoted herself to artistic pursuits influenced by this spiritual path, although she has worked artistically since the early 1970s, when she stopped dancing. Although she has cut back on her activism, due to health problems and family demands, Teriananda remains a committed political activist who stays informed of current issues and is determined to pass on the heritage of struggles for peace and justice to the next generation.