Native American Scholarships
Do You Qualify for Tribal Funds?
Native Americans and Native Alaskans have been historically under-represented in the halls of higher education. Fortunately, the years of prejudice and exclusion are coming to an end. Today, there is a national imperative to encourage and support all minorities, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, to pursue a college education. This drive to diversify the national student body has led to a wide range of scholarship opportunities targeting students of Native American ancestry.
Scholarships for Native Americans and Native Alaskans take many different forms. There are a few general scholarships available that provide funding to undergraduate students without a declared major. However, the majority of scholarships dedicated to Native Americans are subject-specific, and are designed to encourage students of American Indian ancestry to pursue careers in professional fields in which they have been historically under-represented.
Scholarships for Native Americans and Native Alaskans are sponsored by a variety of sources, including:
- Tribal Colleges
- Tribal Councils
- Federal and State Governments
- Colleges and Universities
- Private Corporations and Professional Associations
Are you a Member in a Federally Recognized Tribe?
Before applying for any scholarship programs dedicated to Native American students, you will have to be able to demonstrate, with acceptable documentation, that you are at least ¼ American Indian. This can be a time consuming process, but it is an absolute requirement for all scholarships dedicated to Native American students.
Proving your Native American ancestry should begin with birth certificates and family records. You will also need to contact your tribal elders to trace your family’s history within the tribe. You should also consult the Dawes Rolls, which are United States census documents prepared during the American Indian relocation of the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. These census documents are a comprehensive listing of the people recognized by the Dawes Commission as members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes.
The following resources should be used to trace your American Indian ancestry:
Once you have gathered all of the necessary documentation that proves a direct line of Native American descent, you will need to apply to the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. The CDIB is required for all financial aid programs dedicated to Native Americans and Native Alaskans, and will serve as documentary proof of your American Indian Heritage. With your CDIB in hand, it is time to begin your search for scholarship programs dedicated to the needs of Native American students.
Federal Programs for Native Americans
Any search for college funding should begin with the Federal government. The White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities was created by executive order to improve education opportunities for Native Americans. The WHITCU provides detailed information on all 33 fully accredited Tribal run colleges and universities in the United States. The WHITCU also works with the Bureau of Indian Education to administer a variety of scholarships, grants and fellowships dedicated to the needs of college-bound Native American students.
The following scholarships are offered through the Bureau of Indian Education.
- The BIE Higher Education Grant/Scholarship Program – This program offers financial assistance to college-bound students who are members of a Federally recognized Tribe. Students must be enrolled in an accredited college or university, and must be working towards an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Award amounts vary, and are determined on the basis of financial need.
- The Indian Health Service Scholarship – Three different levels of scholarships are available for Native American and Native Alaskan students pursuing degrees and careers in the healthcare industry. The three IHS Scholarships include the Preparatory Scholarship, the Pre-Graduate Scholarship and the Health Professions Scholarship. These programs are designed to encourage and support Native American and Native Alaskan students at every stage of their medical training.
State-Based Aid in Areas Populated by Native Americans
Many states with large Indian populations often offer scholarships and grants dedicated to the needs of Native American students. These state supported programs offer valuable financial assistance to Native American students who may be struggling to meet the rising costs of college tuition. Some state-based Native American scholarships will be targeted to students pursuing degrees in certain critical need fields, such as healthcare, education and law. The availability of these scholarships and grants will vary greatly depending on the state and the size of its Native American population. Interested parties should contact their state’s Department of Higher Education for details on any financial aid programs which may be available to Native American or Native Alaskan students.
The following examples are typical of the types of scholarships that are available to Native American students at the state and local level.
- The North Dakota University System offers the North Dakota Indian Scholarship. Between 150 and 175 scholarships are awarded annually to Native American students who meet the program’s academic and financial eligibility requirements. Award amounts range from $800 to $2000 per academic year.
- The Illinois Student Assistance Commission offers the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship. This program is open to minority students, including Native Americans, who are residents of the state and are pursuing a career in teaching. Awards are determined by academic achievement, financial need and ethnic background. The maximum award amount is $5000 per year.
- Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education offers the Minnesota Indian Scholarship for undergraduate and graduate students of Native American ancestry. Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited college or university within the state. Awards are determined on the basis of financial need. Undergraduates may be eligible for up to $4000 in scholarship funds, while graduate students may be eligible for up to $6000.
Scholarships Sponsored by Professional Associations
The private sector is a rich source for scholarships and grants dedicated to advancing the professional opportunities of Native Americans. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been historically under-represented in many professional fields. Through scholarships and grant programs corporations and professional organizations are working to diversify the country’s professional workforce, and to encourage more Native Americans to pursue careers in science and industry. These programs offer valuable opportunities to Native American and Native Alaskan students pursuing their educational and professional ambitions.
Native American students searching for scholarships from the private sector should look for programs sponsored by businesses and associations closely allied to their field of interest. For example, a student of Cherokee ancestry who is interested in computer science will want to look for Native American scholarships supported by software companies, computer engineering firms, and professional associations of computer specialists.
The following examples should better illustrate the types of scholarship programs offered by the private sector for students of Native American descent.
- The Gates Millennium Scholars Fund is made possible by a generous donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program provides scholarship opportunities for scholastically talented minority students, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, who are pursuing degrees in mathematics and science. Students must be nominated for the award by a principle, teacher, or guidance counselor. Award are determined on the basis of financial need, course of study, and total cost of tuition.
- The Ford Motor Company Tribal Scholars Program offers $5000 in annual scholarship funds to Native American students pursuing degrees in mathematics, science, business or education. Eligible applicants must be in their sophomore year of college, and must have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Final award determination is made on the basis of financial need.
- The National Society of Professional Engineers administers the Maureen L. & Howard N. Blitman, P.E., Scholarship to Promote Diversity in Engineering. The annual scholarship is awarded to high school seniors from an ethnic minority who have been accepted in an approved engineering program at an accredited four year university. The award is $5000, to be disbursed in two installments during the student’s freshman year.
- The Society for American Archaeology administers their own Native American Scholarship Fund. The SAA offers four annual scholarships, including the Arthur C. Parker Scholarship, the NSF Scholarship for Archaeological Training, the Native American Undergraduate Archaeology Scholarship, and the Native American Graduate Archaeology Scholarship. Award amounts range from $4000 to $10,000.
Scholarships from Tribes and Advocacy Groups
Finally, Native American and Native Alaskan students should investigate those scholarship opportunities funded and supported by individual Tribal Nations. Many tribes support their own scholarship funds, and offer financial aid to deserving members. Students should also consider programs supported by charitable foundations and advocacy groups that are dedicated to the needs and welfare of the American Indian population. Again, like many of the scholarships available from the private sector, financial aid programs supported by the Tribal Nations and by Indian advocacy groups are often subject-specific and are designed to encourage Native American students to pursue degrees and careers in specific fields.
The following few examples should give students an idea of the types of scholarship programs offered by individual tribes, and by charitable foundations.
Native Americans and Native Alaskans have access to an impressive array of financial aid opportunities designed to help them pursue their college and professional ambitions. Though their history within the United States has often been troubled, and the path difficult, new and enlightened attitudes have paved the way for increased understanding and improved opportunities. With the right scholarship, Native American students can now achieve their goals of a first class education and a bright and productive future.
Native American and Native Alaskan students will also want to refer to our section on Grants for Native American Students.
College is a great way to build on your education and advance your career, but paying for it can be stressful. Fortunately, there are lots of financial assistance programs specifically for Native Americans.
Many Native American scholarships require that you establish eligibility. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the award. Often, you must be an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe. A Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CIDB) card or document serves as proof of tribe membership. Other awards and programs may rely upon descent requirements (at least one grandparent or one parent as tribal member) to establish eligibility.
For more information on the tribal affiliations and federally recognized tribes, call the Bureau of Indian affairs at (202) 208-3710.
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
For government-sponsored funds that directly target the Native American community, check with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA is a subsection of the U.S. Department of the Interior. It offers a wide array of services that benefit the Native American population, including funds for education. These funds are meant to supplement other sources of federal funding.
Usually, to be eligible for BIA money you must:
* demonstrate financial need
* be a member of a BIA recognized Native American tribe
* have at least one-fourth degree Indian blood (at least one grandparent is of Indian blood)
* be enrolled in an accredited institution of higher education.
In addition, to apply for a BIA grant you must obtain and submit:
* an application from the area or agency office that serves your tribal affiliation
* your CIDB (obtained from your BIA Tribal census office)
* your high school transcripts, G.E.D. scores or transcripts from the previous college semester
* your letter of acceptance from your college
* your school’s financial aid package
Your school’s financial aid officer must also complete Needs Analysis Application and the BIA Financial Aid Package Form.
For more information, call the BIA’s Office of Indian Education Programs at (202) 208-6123 or visit their Web site at http://www.oiep.bia.edu/.
Tuition Reduction and Waiver Programs
Some colleges offer tuition reductions or complete tuition waivers for qualified Native Americans. You usually have to meet certain academic requirements and be the registered member of a federally recognized tribe or a certain percentage of provable blood. Check with your prospective schools to see if they offer this benefit.
Tribal Colleges and the American Indian College Fund
Tribal colleges are schools designed by Native Americans to address special concerns of this population: high poverty rates, educational failure and cultural loss. They support higher education for tribal members and stimulate economic opportunities within the reservation community.
In 1986, the 32 tribal colleges of the United States joined together to create the American Indian College Fund. The Fund’s purpose is to raise scholarship and operation funds for the colleges and their students. To learn more about the scholarship opportunities available through the American Indian College Fund, visit their home page at http://www.collegefund.org.
Some specific tribes offer grants or scholarships from their funds to students who are registered members of their tribe. There are also several scholarships sponsored by Native American associations and other organizations. For example, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (http://www.aises.org) sponsors a variety of awards for students in the physical and biological sciences.
But you aren’t limited to scholarships for Native Americans. Also check out awards for students of minority status. To find scholarships, complete a FastWeb scholarship search at www.fastweb.com. And learn about other funding opportunities for Native Americans at http://www.finaid.com/otheraid/natamind.phtml.
Do your research and you may find ways to bring down the cost of your college education.
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