BOZEMAN, Mont. - As a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe and a
veteran professor of Native American Studies at Montana State University,
Wayne Stein knows his way around indigenous issues.
But Stein, one of 14 educators from nine Montana tribal colleges, five
units of the Montana University System and two tribal colleges in South
Dakota and Wisconsin, who participated in a Fulbright Fellowship in Peru
and Guatemala this summer, learned that there is a world of difference in
life and philosophies of the indigenous in Montana and their brethren in
South and Central America.
"We saw a very different world," Stein said of the 30-day trip.
"In a country where there was a lot of brown skin around, we felt much the
outsiders," agreed Walter Fleming, chair of the MSU Center for Native
American Studies and an enrolled member of the Kickapoo tribe of Kansas.
Stein, Fleming and Lisa Aldred, also an MSU professor of Native American
Studies, were the MSU participants in the Fulbright program organized by
Lynette Chandler and Scott Friskics of Ft. Belknap College. Friskics and
Chandler, who is Stein's eldest daughter, successfully applied for and
received a $60,000 grant for the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
seminar in Peru and Guatemala.
"We wanted to look at other indigenous communities so we could
internationalize our Native American studies classes in Montana," Chandler
said. She said the trip, which was hard, revealing and frequently
life-changing, will help participants develop seminars and new courses,
enrich existing courses and just plain help the educators to learn about
the indigenous world.
"It was definitely an experience," said Chandler, who received a master's
degree in Native American Studies from MSU in 2002 and an English degree
from the university in 2000.
Aldred, who teaches an MSU class called "Peoples of the Americas" agreed
with Chandler that the trip "changed my whole viewpoint," particularly on
Indians in Peru.
"All the textbooks I'd ever seen and used on the Incas portrayed them as
violent, bloodthirsty people, but I learned that was wrong," said Aldred,
who said she learned about the spiritual side to the modern-day Incas from
their descendents that populate Peru. "We saw that their spirituality is
linked with their sacred landscapes, which is similar to the Indians in
"Another difference is that in Peru, almost everybody is indigenous, and
they don't draw the same ethnic classifications there," Aldred said.
"Ethnicity and classification have maybe less to do with whether one is
Indian or indigenous than income," said Stein, who called "Peru a country
in search of a nation."
Indeed, Aldred, Stein and Fleming all were impacted by the fact that
identity hinges more on income in Peru than ethnic heritage. Such
ethnic-based keystones as Native American Studies programs and Indian pride
movements are just beginning there. And public education is nearly
nonexistent, they said. There were a couple of similarities in the
indigenous in South America, including sense of humor and generous spirit.
"Those are things that you will find in all people who are close to the
earth," said Stein, who has spent time in indigenous communities in New
Zealand, Thailand and Canada.
Fleming said that as a man who has battled stereotypes throughout his life,
he learned that he had a few stereotypes about Central and South American
Indians that were changed during the trip. "For instance, we think that the
Incas are extinct, but they are not," Fleming said. "They are very much
still a part of the culture there."
He said that while 40 percent of the country is called indigenous and the
rest is called "Latino," the country is ruled by just 2 percent of the
population, which is composed of both Indians and Latinos. In fact, the
president of Peru is Indian. However, the campesinos, or people who live in
remote villages in the country, are Indians who "live much like they lived
when Cortez and Pizarro showed up," Stein said.
The situation in Guatemala was much different than Peru, mostly because it
is a war-torn society where violence was evident and armed guards were
everywhere, even in such places as McDonalds. The threat of possible
violence in everyday places was a strain, the MSU professors said.
"The Indian people there live in extreme poverty, much the way our parents
or grandparents lived on the reservations," Fleming said. "My reaction is
that we have come a very long way in two or three decades."
All three of the Fulbright participants said the trip enriched them
professionally and personally, and Fleming and Stein said each experienced
unexpected feelings of what it means to be an American Indian.
"For the first time in my life, I realized I was part of the 'other,'"
"I learned that I am really happy to live in Bozeman, Mont.," Stein said.
"[The trip] emphasized my own identity as an American."