The 2017 Flame of Hope Gala raised $119,520 for the American Indian College Fund to help Native American students to achieve their higher education dreams. A new interactive auction format had attendees raising paddles to pledge dollar amounts to help students.
The largest pledge was for $10,000, which provides a Native American student with a full-ride scholarship for one year including tuition and books. Kim Blanchard, American Indian College Fund trustee, who served as the auctioneer, kicked the bidding off by pledging this one herself.
Other bid amounts attendees pledged were $5,000 for a full year of tuition, $2,000 for a full year of support services, which Blanchard noted the importance of. “Our students need more support, they come from schools that haven’t given them the what they need,” she said. Jennah Seaver, Lac Courte Oreilles, one of the students who spoke at the April 25 event said support services can mean tutoring, mentorship and even opportunities for internships. The pledge amounts continued to be auctioned off until it got down to $100 to provide one book to a student.
The theme of this year’s event, held at New York City’s Gotham Hall, was “Finding Power, Charting Destiny and Claiming Our Future,” and it “should resonate with all of us,” Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, Sicangu Lakota, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, told the crowd.
“Finding Power means we inquire and learn about who we are, we develop confidence and find inner strength and the support we need to achieve our dreams and to thrive. As indigenous people, when we find our power, we are no longer invisible,” she said. “Charting Destiny means we can have choices. We can see the many paths that we can take and we can make a map that shows us how to get there. Maybe we are following a path laid before us by someone who came before and maybe we are creating a new path. As indigenous people in all likelihood we are following the stars. When we chart our own destiny, we make the choices.
“Claiming our Future means that we can hold onto and use our knowledge and our education to fulfill our dreams and the dreams of ancestors. They wanted us to do more than survive, they wanted us to live abundant, prosperous lives and to build a better society for all.”
And the Native American students who spoke at the American Indian College Fund gala are certainly doing their part to use their education to make society better. Seaver is starting with Native American youth to empower communities from within. She graduates this month from Haskell Indian Nations University with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and plans on working in Lawrence, Kansas. She wants to address public perception of American Indian history in schools and “be an example of how Native Americans are a thriving, supportive culture striving for progress.”
Len Necefer, Navajo, works with the Office of Indian Energy in the Department of Energy. His educational journey was carefully planned to make sure Native voices are heard and engaged in the pursuit of energy development. He most recently earned his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon in the department of engineering and public policy. “I’m helping tribes actualize their vision of what they want their future to be,” he said. He works to include the tribal perspective in dialogue about resources, especially those close to tribal lands. “Including the indigenous perspective in these types of conversations can inspire completely different, yet mutually beneficial outcomes.”
All of the Native American students said how grateful they are to the American Indian College Fund for helping them realize their educational goals.
Justin Bauswell, Cherokee, started school with only enough money to pay for one semester, and no idea how he was going to pay for the next. “I’ve heard stories of students selling their cars,” he told the crowd.
Robin Máxkii, Stockbridge-Munsee, was one of those students who sold her car, and it was the American Indian College Fund that provided relief. “I am grateful for the American Indian College Fund for opening doors that would otherwise be closed to me; for believing in me and consistently giving me that boost of confidence… that belief in myself and those ideas to build strong, sustainable communities. Thank you for encouraging me when others don’t. For telling me you can when other say you can’t,” Máxkii said. “I’m part of a growing number of Native people who see opportunities more than challenges and who are courageous in their pursuit in creating better communities for their Native people. And it starts with education.”