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Turkish Official Encourages Tribal-Turkey Relations

The president of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency discusses the first-of-its-kind award from the agency to Indian country.

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has awarded a $200,000 grant to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation in an effort to help the tribe meet its water needs over the next ten years. In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Serdar Çam, president of TIKA within the office of the Turkish prime minister, discussed the first-of-its-kind award from the agency and ongoing efforts to generate more economic partnerships between Turkey and tribes.

How was the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation chosen to receive the grant?

The application process began after a grant announcement was released via the National American Indian Housing Council's (NAIHC) mailing list in September 2012.The Turkish Coalition of America, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit that aims to foster better understanding of U.S.-Turkey relations, facilitated the grant submission and review process and collected applications through October 2012. A total of 32 proposals were submitted and reviewed by an independent panel comprised of Native Americans on a point scale based on how the project met the needs of the community, estimated impact in the short and long term, and overall objectives. When all entries were tallied, the Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs Reservation was the top scorer, and was therefore selected as the recipient of the first grant by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, an agency within the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey.

What does the tribe plan to do with the grant?

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon are currently building an 80,000 square foot elementary school facility on their reservation that will serve 648 children in K-8th grade. The TIKA grant will aid with the construction of a 500,000-gallon water tank to meet the water demands of the growing student population over the next 10 years. Moreover, the tribes' current water resources are inadequate to fully protect lives and structures on the reservation and the water tank that will be built with TIKA funds is also necessary for protection against fire in high risk areas.

How will you measure the success of the grant?

The TIKA delegation has already paid a visit to the reservation and will stay in close contact with the tribes to ensure the construction timeline is met and the funds are expended per the agreement.

More broadly, do you think that ties are growing between Turkey and Indian country?

There has always been an affinity among Turks towards Native Americans due to certain similarities ranging from rug motifs to family structures. The development of a more structured and consistent approach to expanding ties between Turkey and Indian country, however, began first with the Turkish Coalition of America’s Study Abroad Scholarships to Native American college and graduate students who chose Turkey as their study abroad destination. A total of 16 scholarships have been awarded to Native American students since the inception of the TCA scholarship program in 2008. The educational exchanges paved the way for cultural, political and economic exchanges between Tribes as TCA coordinated multiple trips to facilitate growing ties between Turkey and the tribes.

Legislation that would help strengthen the economic relationship between Turkey and Indian country has not been able to make it through the U.S. Congress. Why do you think that is?

The legislation introduced [last year] by Mr. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) is a welcome first step in cementing the growing ties between Turkey and Indian country. The sole purpose of this legislation was to involve Native Americans and private companies from all over, World Trade Organization countries, in a way to develop a new understanding that will eventually bolster economic growth in Indian country. The legislation, which was supported by nearly two-thirds of House members, unfortunately did not meet the required majority due to opposition by some members on issues extraneous to the legislation itself. Regardless, we continue to explore ways to deepen and strengthen the relations between Turkey and Native American communities, with the awareness that this will not just help the Native Americans, but will also bring a new dimension to the strategic partnership between Turkey and our friend and ally the United States.

Finally, will Turkey be giving more tribal grants in the future?

TIKA was established in 1992 to provide development assistance to countries to improve cooperation through projects and programs in economic, commercial, technical, social, cultural and educational arenas. TIKA currently maintains 26 coordination offices in 23 countries across Africa, Asia, and Europe. This is the first TIKA grant to North America. Earlier this year, TIKA provided a grant to Strategies for International Development (SID) to assist poverty alleviation efforts in Peru, Guatemala and Bolivia. TIKA grants aim to facilitate economic, commercial, technical, social, cultural and educational cooperation with recipient countries via development assistance projects. In fulfillment of its mission, TIKA works to enhance infrastructure; improve living standards; provide vocational training and employment; protect cultural heritage and improve cultural relations; and strengthen information and publishing services. While this is the first grant by TIKA to the tribes, there may be other opportunities in the future for the Turkish Agency to collaborate with Indian country.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.