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Colleges Focusing on Culture to Bring in Native Students

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Leaving the reservation for college can be difficult for Native American youth.

“I’m afraid because it’s really hard to leave my family,” 17-year-old Elijah Watson, Navajo, told The Associated Press.

Part of that fear comes from missing traditional ceremonies like the weeklong Kinaalda, which marks a girl’s transition to womanhood, he attended in March for his cousin.

He told the AP that if he goes to college he would not be there to participate in the same ceremony for his little sister.

This problem many Native youth face is being addressed by a number of universities across the country, reports the AP.

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“These students could be in a classroom with hundreds of kids and no one will be like them so it’s really good for these programs to pull all of these kids together,” Ahniwake Rose, director of the National Indian Education Association, told the AP.

Many universities are implementing mini boot camps to get students used to the transition to college life and the idea that higher education does not mean they have to give up their tribal culture.

Watson attended one such program at the University of California, Riverside where he attended lectures, slept in the dorms and participated in cultural activities like prayer circles, reports the AP.

“We encourage having your culture and traditions as well as academics,” Joshua Gonzalez, the director of Native American Student Programs at Riverside told the AP. “To be able to know your language, to be able to sing the songs, to know the creation stories—those are things that are really important.”

The program at Riverside has about a 90 percent success rate in getting Native youth into college.

Read more about programs for Native youth at universities here.