Skip to main content

How can I get an Indian scholarship?

I need an Indian scholarship to go to college. No, you don’t. Fastweb has 1.5 million entries in its database; fewer than 100 of those are Indian scholarships. Only seven have real money; the rest have scholarship amounts that total less than $20,000 per year.

Some of the Indian scholarships only give two awards a year. That is highly competitive. So you don’t need an Indian scholarship. Most students will only be eligible for two or three of the Indian scholarships. You need to win many more than that to pay for college.

Most Indian students who go on Fastweb do it wrong. They will use three to five keywords, such as American Indian, Native American, education and minority. But they will overlook many other words they should be using, such as woman, female, special education, elementary education, FBLA, National Honor Society, FFA and Spanish Club. At least 95 percent of the students we hear from, if they have done a Fastweb search, have not done a comprehensive one. The minimum number of scholarships students can find these days is 40, and that is as easy as falling off a log.

Counselors should be helping students with this process, but most do very little. There is still an attitude that says Indian students cannot make it in college. People do not encourage them to go to college, in fact, they tell Indian kids they should not go.

Harvard and Stanford will cost $45,000 a year, but you can pay for it with scholarships, if you do it right. Our motto is: Go to Harvard Medical School, don’t take out any loans, and give your momma money. We actually have people doing that. There is no limit to the number of scholarships a student can earn. Marianne (Angel) Ragins won 200 scholarships in 1991. She was a black woman who wanted to go to medical school. She started looking for scholarships in the seventh grade.

Parade Magazine did a two-page spread on her, which made her world famous. She has since written three books on how to find and win scholarships. Your high school library should have them; if it doesn’t, ask the librarian to order them.

Isaiah Rodriquez, Laguna, the student who has applied to the highest number of scholarships in the 24-year history of Catching the Dream, found 102. He won most of them. He has his whole life made. He was the top student at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute two years ago, and was president of the student government. Before that he was a high school dropout who was a fry cook for seven years. He finally realized that cooking eggs was not his dream, and decided to do something.

How can I get an Indian scholarship? There is a myth that there is a pot of Indian gold called “scholarships” at the end of the rainbow. This myth is not true, but I have been fighting it for 40 years. People do not want to believe it, even after I tell them. Please believe me, folks.

Students should be looking for scholarships, not Indian scholarships. If you look for Indian things, you will be restricting yourself to one-one-hundredth of the database, ignoring the other 99.99 percent. DO NOT DO THIS! Look for everything you can find to help you pay for college.

How can I get a DNA test to prove I’m Indian so I can get an Indian scholarship? This is off the radar. There is no DNA test that will prove you’re an Indian. The DNA test can prove who your real momma and daddy are, but it cannot tell if you are Indian, white, Black or Hispanic.

Where do I make contact to enroll in my tribe? Answer: What tribe are you? I don’t know, but we’re from Ohio. Answer: All the Indians in Ohio were killed or moved out 150 years ago. You’re probably relying on a family myth, which may or may not be true.

Can I get a scholarship if I’m 1/64th Indian? Not likely. Forget about trying to find an Indian scholarship. Start studying, get good grades, and then look for scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship if I’m one-ninth Indian? Sorry, but the bottom number has to be even. There is no such thing as one-ninth Indian, or one-seventh Indian, or one-fifth Indian. Think about it. If your momma was full blood and your daddy was non-Indian, you will be half. Your kids, if you marry a non-Indian, will be one-quarter.

Can I get enrolled in the Sycamore Tribe? That is a cruel myth that white people in Oklahoma used to play on visiting firemen. They would make them honorary members of the Sycamore Tribe. A sycamore is a tree. Look it up.

How can I prove I’m an Indian if my birth certificate says I am white? That’s a really hard one. You are probably going to have to accept that you’re white. Your grandparents may have not wanted their kids to be identified as Indian, and had “white” put on the birth certificate. But guess how those kids grew up; they were white.

Can I get my daughter enrolled in her tribe if her father/grandfather/grandmother was not enrolled? That one is going to be hard, too. A handful of the Cherokees who lived up in the hills refused to enroll back in the 1890s and early 1900s. It is possible, though not probable, that the great-grandkid of some of them is a half-blood with no proof. All I can tell you is to get all their birth certificates and other records and provide them to the tribal enrollment office.

Can I get an Indian scholarship if I don’t know what tribe I belong to? That is going to be really hard. You are normally going to have to provide some proof along with your scholarship application. We require a Certificate of Indian Blood to come directly from the tribe. If you don’t know what tribe you belong to, it’s going to be really hard to get yourself enrolled. But realize that you are still eligible for 40 or more scholarships. There are too many people applying for Indian scholarships, and too few people applying for other scholarships. You do the math.

I am 15/64 Indian. Can I win an Indian scholarship? For most scholarships, you have to be one-quarter blood Indian or more. That means 16/64, or 9/32, or 5/16, or some other number where the top number is at least 25 percent or more of the bottom number. That means that 0.125 percent is not enough Indian blood. The BIA definition is 25 percent, and most scholarships follow this criterion. If you are less than one-quarter Indian blood, you might find one or two Indian scholarships for which you can qualify. But don’t waste your time looking for that one or two Indian scholarships when you could be finding 100 other non-Indian scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship if my GPA is 2.5? It is not likely, but it is possible. We have given at least one scholarship in the past 24 years to a student with a 2.6. But he offset the fairly low grades with a super essay, and he had already finished a semester of college. He was tough, and it came through. He said the architects that are designing HUD Indian houses don’t know anything about Indian culture, and they design Indian houses that have no relevance to Indian people, so they don’t relate to the little cracker-box houses, and don’t have any pride living in them. He said, I will design houses that are consistent with Indian culture, and Indian people will like them. He found 15 scholarships, applied to all of them, and won five. It was enough money for him to stay in college. He improved his grades. He has had his architecture license for 16 years.

Can I apply for local scholarships even though I’m an Indian? This is another gold mine. I met a young lady from Yankton, S.D. four years ago who had found 12 scholarships in that small reservation town. We had a student from Chadron, Neb. a decade ago who found 22 scholarships in that small reservation border town. Elks, Moose, Eagles, Lions, Rotary, Toastmasters, AAUW, VFW, churches, women’s groups, men’s groups, business groups, and others have scholarships. I hate it when one of those scholarships tells me, “We never get an application from an Indian student. Have some of them apply to us.”

I goofed around and didn’t work hard in high school; can I still earn a scholarship? It is possible, depending on your grades. If you are carrying a 3.0, you are on the bubble. You will need to offset this GPA with an outstanding essay. We will help you. About 95 percent of the essays we get are not adequate. They mostly sin by omission; they leave things off that they should put in. I tell students they can go to a community college, especially a tribal college, work hard, get good grades, and I will help them get into Cornell. Most people do not believe me, but I guarantee it.

Dr. Dean Chavers is director of Catching the Dream, a Native scholarship organization. His latest books are “Modern American Indian Leaders” published by Mellen Press and “Racism in Indian Country” published by Peter Lang Publishers. Contact him at His next book is “Broken Promises: Termination of Indian Treaties and the Aftermath,” due out in 2011.