East Meets West

Exchange Students Awed by Tribes

By Khaliela Wright

When University of Idaho foreign exchange student Rafay Adeel arrived from Pakistan at the Moscow-Pullman Airport in August 2014, he had no idea that living, breathing Native Americans still walked the Earth. He thought European immigrants had killed them off years ago, during the Indian Wars, which in the Middle East have become as iconic of the American West as the cowboy. Rafay was met at the airport by Moscow resident Diane Walker of the university’s Friendship Families Program (FFP), who soon introduced him to Coeur d’Alene Tribe members by arranging a trip to the Coeur d’Alene Casino. Diane has hosted many exchange students over the years and she told me all of them are interested in Native Americans, so she always takes them to the casino. “It’s only fair,” she joked. “I think the casino is their way of getting even with us.”

Another exchange student, Sanjar Rahimov of Tajikistan, went with them. When they ordered lunch at the casino’s restaurant, Diane had a hard time explaining the different levels of spiciness in the foods. Giving up, she explained to the waitress that the two young men were from Pakistan and Tajikistan. She asked for help and the waitress said to hold on, she’d be right back. The woman returned carrying a tray of seven sauces, which she put on the table for the two to taste. After that, a different waitress or waiter stopped by their table every five minutes, apparently to see if everything was all right. Diane laughed as she recalled the situation. “I had taken the boys up there because they wanted to see the Indians, but it seemed that every Indian in the casino wanted to get a good look at them!” The lads said they felt famous on that trip, because so many people were eager to meet them.

As an instructor for Lewis-Clark State College and Spokane Falls Community College, I’ve worked regularly with Native American students and often have them in my classes. Interacting with Native Americans on an almost daily basis, I’ve learned a bit of the Nez Perce language of Nimipuutimt, and attended powwows, and I’m often startled that those around me are unfamiliar with the language and cultures of the native people who live and work among us. Worse, some of them don’t even realize that Native Americans do live and work among us.

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