DENVER - American Indian nations already benefit from the growing number of tribal members who have graduated from tribal colleges. But while many tribal governments have the resources to provide tuition grants to their enrolled members, some students are left out because a number of tribes are strapped for funds and can barely meet the needs of programs that provide life-supporting benefits.
Recognizing that scholarships are critical to many students' educational success, and that increasing the availability of financial aid at tribal colleges would benefit Indian country even more, the American Indian College Fund is now offering a new level of scholarship initiative whose goals are loftier than ever.
The new scholarship, called the Sovereign Nations Scholarship Fund Endowment, will begin issuing scholarships for the 2007 - '08 academic year.
The SNSFE goal is to reach $10 million, which will provide Native students who meet the eligibility requirements in any institution of higher education across the country the opportunity to receive scholarships. The SNSFE will allow students to move upward in education from the undergraduate level through graduate, law and medical schools.
The SNSFE was launched in 2001 by a $900,000 grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minnesota. Other tribes and tribal organizations have contributed to the fund, bringing it to its current level of $2 million.
With other AICF scholarships, students were limited to tribal colleges; those scholarships will still be available as the endowment raises the bar on scholarships.
The SNSFE scholarships will be smaller and fewer initially, but will grow as the endowment increases and reaches its goal, according to Vicky Stott, director of foundations for AICF.
''We are looking at students who are providing for their community. The selection committee is made up of tribal representatives and as more names come in it will help increase the pipeline,'' Stott said.
Student eligibility requirements include a commitment to put their knowledge and experience to work within the American Indian community.
''This is a good return on the investment,'' Stott said.
AICF scholarships' No. 1 priority is to help communities and families. Many of the past scholarship recipients are now working for tribes or for tribal colleges.
The success of gaming in Indian country is also important to the growth of the new fund, Stott said. The initial funds were given by the SMSC, a successful gaming tribe with a history of large philanthropic donations; other tribes that have experienced success in gaming have also contributed.
Stott said that contributing tribes' commitment to education motivates them to help students other than their own enrolled members.
''The tribes want to see people in a place of importance who can protect sovereignty, assist with health care and provide legal and business experience,'' Stott said.
Some 15 - 20 students will benefit in the SNSFE scholarships' initial year.
''For us to start with this academic year is a miracle,'' Stott said. ''The tribes that could afford it came forward. The need is huge.''
Stott said that 95 percent of American Indian students have financial need.
The AICF is asking for students to come forward and apply for the new scholarship and for tribes to come forward and help financially.
Other contributors to the new endowment include the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Oneida Indian Nation Foundation (New York), San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.