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
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
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
"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
"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."