Yolanda Teran

Yolanda Teran
Department of Education, National Council of Indigenous Women, Quito, Ecuador
Lecturing: The Development of Cultural Awareness
Host: Sisseton Wahpeton Community College, Sisseton, SD
August 2000-August 2002

When Yolanda Teran, a Kichwa Indian from Quito, Ecuador, received a Fulbright grant to be a Scholar-in-Residence at Sisseton Wahpeton Community College in Sisseton, South Dakota, she was very excited. "I felt that I was coming to work with my brothers and my sisters," says Teran, who is national coordinator of indigenous education and culture for the National Council of Indigenous Women in Ecuador. "I was eager to exchange information about our two cultures. I had in my mind that we were all Indians and all the same."

Teran, who earned a master's degree from the University of Leicester in England, has had a stellar academic career in a variety of international set-tings. Yet in Sisseton, she was surprised when she experienced "culture shock" in the cold northern climate and rural setting. The campus is located on the Lake Traverse Reservation, and 75 percent of its students are Native Americans. While she discovered that while there were, indeed, many similarities between the two cultures, there were also important differences. "I think people in the north use more the mind and are more subdued and reticent," she explains. "In the south, we use more the heart. We tend to be more expressive and emotional."

At first, Teran confesses, she felt like an outsider. At the beginning of the 2000 fall semester, in her class on "Growing Up Indian," the students were quiet and didn't react very much. However, she kept reaching out-both in class and in the community-and the cultural differences quickly evaporated.

"When Indian people here see how hard you are working, they come to respect you and will help you get established, but it takes time," notes Teran. "By the end of the term, my class and I felt very comfortable with each other."

The next spring, she taught "Contemporary Issues of Indian Life." In both classes, her goal was to help students understand the significance of culture, cultural identity and multiculturalism. She asked them to compare Dakota and Kichwa cultures. She encouraged them to recover their ancestral roots and to feel proud of being Indians.

"There was a lot of sharing, and they taught me a lot about their culture," she says. "It was interactive learning. They brought music and stories and sang and danced. I went through the sweat lodge purification ceremony, and it had a deep affect on me."

She and her students also discovered that their people face many of the same problems. In both Americas, because of historical circumstances, indigenous people are still "dealing with the culture of shame," Teran observes. "We also have the same problems about land. They are trying to recover their ancestral lands, and we are, too," she states. "Society is changing so quickly that our people feel lost. We want them to be able to retain their values and customs."

Indians from both hemispheres are working hard to recover spirituality, Teran notes. "We believe that is a good way to teach little kids and young people to be proud of their heritage."

Teran's 4-year-old son, Curi Mallqui (which means "Sacred Life"), who was enrolled in a tribal Head Start program, greatly enjoyed Sisseton, she says. "The college and community have been wonderful to me and my son," she adds. They asked her to extend her stay, and so she did by two months.

"I think we've both learned a lot," Teran states. "Most important, I've learned that although there are differences, North and South American Indians have the same faces, the same needs and the same problems. Maybe we can work together to find a common solution to those problems."

 

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