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A unique commitment

Haudenosaunee reap benefits of Syracuse scholarship program

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - For many Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, students at Syracuse University, walking the paths through campus is not something they ever imagined for themselves. The private school's tuition costs kept many at bay, despite its reputation as a great school that was an easy commute for most of them on their respective reservations.

However, today there are more Haudenosaunee students there than ever before; and the implementation of a unique and innovative scholarship program is to be credited with the influx of Native faces.

The Haudenosaunee Promise Scholarship was announced in 2005 by SU, with the first students attending school there under the program in the fall of 2006.

''The Promise expresses Syracuse University's gratitude and appreciation for the historical, political and cultural legacies of the Haudenosaunee,'' according to its Web site.

''No other university has made this kind of commitment to neighboring aboriginal peoples,'' said Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca, who serves as director of the College of Law's Center for Indigenous Law, Governance and Citizenship at SU. ''For too long, we have struggled to resist Western efforts to de-culture our people through education. Now, through Chancellor [Nancy] Cantor's leadership, SU is creating an opportunity for us to achieve a Haudenosaunee intellectual renaissance.''

Tuition, room and board, and all other related fees are paid in full for scholarship recipients.

To be eligible, students must be current residents of a Haudenosaunee nation, which in-cludes the Akwesasne Mohawk, Kanatsiohareke Mohawk, Ganienke Mohawk, Kahnawake Mohawk, Kanesatake Mohawk, Tyendinaga Mohawk, Tonawanda Seneca, Six Nations (Canada), Oneida (New York), Oneida of the Thames (Ontario), Onondaga, Allegany Seneca, Cattaraugus Seneca, Oil Springs Seneca and Tuscarora.

Students must then maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

With the program in its second year, faculty and students have learned more about each and resources have been developed to assist the Native students.

''I really enjoy the program we have here at Syracuse University,'' said Alex Jimerson, Seneca at Cattaraugus and a freshman at SU. ''We have a great support system from our Native staff and professors ... I find we have plentiful resources here at SU; Regina Jones, the director of the Native [Student] Program at SU, does a lot to provide for us. Whether it's taking us to buy groceries at Wal-Mart or helping us with our housing plans for next semester, she does an excellent job of taking care of the Native students.''

Jimerson said the school makes a noticeable effort to bring in Native guest speakers and activities.

''There is also a Native Learning Community which I am a part of,'' he said. ''We all help each other with our classes and keep each other company. It is a feeling of a mini 'rez' on campus because we all support each other.''

Saietokwen Cole, Akwesasne Mohawk, added, ''It feels like a tight community here at SU in terms of the Native people. There is always help.''

When the program was first implemented, SU welcomed 30 Haudenosaunee students into the scholarship program. The university has no limit to how many of the scholarships it will award, but students must first gain acceptance to the SU through normal means. Grades are important.

Akwesasne Mohawk Takarakoten Burns said, ''One of the things that Regina [Jones] has told us is that Syracuse University will look really good on our resumes and that since we are going here for free, we should really take advantage of getting this education ... so that's basically her way of saying, 'Please don't skip class.'''

Burns said she doesn't believe she could have attended the school had it not been for the free tuition offered through the scholarship. Now, she's in her second year and is leaning toward declaring a major in psychology.

''I really like the program and I have fallen in love with Syracuse University's campus,'' she said. ''It really is something else. In the program, they really do try to help out the students that come here, for they want us to continue to be here.''

Burns, Cole and Jimerson all said they plan to return to SU in the fall. The students said they don't believe they could have attended SU without the scholarship.

''If the program was not in place, I don't think I could afford to attend school here,'' Jimerson said. ''But I've always wanted to be a part of the Syracuse University community. When the Promise Scholarship became in effect, I was certain that I would attend Syracuse University after high school graduation.''

Though all three appeared satisfied with their first year(s) at SU, they had suggestions for improving it.

Burns said she wished there were even more Native students on campus. Cole said she wished the scholarship was available to all Native students, not just those who reside on a reservation.

Karla General, Akwesasne Mohawk, said she wished the scholarship program applied to her. She is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and is currently working towards her J.D. and Ph.D. at SU.

''It would be great to see the scholarship made available for Haudenosaunee graduate and law students at Syracuse University and not just limited to the undergraduate population,'' she said. ''As far as I know, I am the only enrolled Haudenosaunee that is also enrolled in a graduate/law program at Syracuse, so it would be a great way to increase numbers and attract more Haudenosaunee students from undergrad, especially considering that the university is located in the middle of Haudenosaunee country.''

To learn more about the scholarship program or to request an application, visit http://financialaid.syr.edu.