By: SEVİM SONGÜN
Hürriyet Daily News
A delegation of Native American scholars currently visiting Turkey plans to recommend the country as an academic-exchange destination following discussions with Turkish universities this past week. Turkish-Americans and Native Americans have much to learn from each other, says Lincoln McCurdy, the president of the Turkish American Coalition, which organized the exchange
A group of Native American scholars came to Turkey last week as part of an effort to boost university relations and create future student and faculty exchanges between North American and Turkish schools.
The two cultures have many things in common and have an opportunity to share these experiences, according to the visiting Native American delegation hosted by the Turkish Coalition of America, or TCA.
“I have never been to Turkey before – it was one of those places I had seen only on the map. This has been a wonderful experience for me,” said Evelina Zuni Lucero, who teaches creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico.
“Many Native American students are willing to come to Turkey. We are interested in non-Western cultures, particularly Middle Eastern ones, because we really know very little about them,” added Lucero, a Native American from the Isleta/Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
“As soon as I return to the U.S., I will make a presentation at my university about my experiences here and look for ways to arrange possible exchanges,” said Valerian Three Irons, a scholar from South Dakota State University.
He added that because most Native American students are from low-income families, he will try to arrange scholarships for them to receive education in Turkey.
Three Irons, who has a mixed heritage from the Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow and Cree nations, said he would arrange a summer-school program at the university so students can experience living with Native American families on reservations and see everything that happens in the community. The program would allow these visitors to see more than most tourists, he said.
According to Three Irons, who works with Turkish schools such as Bahçeşehir University on these exchanges, there are more than 700 Native American communities and each one has a unique religion. He said these communities like the idea of an exchange of ideas between nations because it is very different from their past experiences of conquest and exploitation.
Some exchanges between universities have already started with the TCA invitation to the Native American scholars.
Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, an education professor at Northeastern Arizona University, will teach at Bahçeşehir University for one term. Gilbert said his home university has started a global initiative to develop more exchanges and that Turkey could be one of the partners in these efforts.
According to TCA President Lincoln McCurdy, the group has additional bridge-building projects involving Turkey and various American communities, including African-, Hispanic-, Bosnian-, Albanian- and Macedonian-Americans.
“Turkish-Americans have still not yet learned [how] to get involved in the political system in the United States, but they can learn a lot from Native, African- and Hispanic-Americans who have been successful after all the struggles to get politically involved,” said McCurdy.
He added that Native Americans can be inspired by the history of the Turkish Republic to rebuild their identities and maintain their heritage while modernizing.
According to McCurdy, the group is also working on future projects to increase business relations between Turkey and American communities.