Indian Students Respond to Scholarship System Stories in Unprecedented Numbers

Dr. Dean Chavers

When I wrote a column two months ago on scholarships and how few Indian students apply to them, I got a response that still floors me. So far, there have been over 780 comments to the online article from Indian Country Today Media Network.

That’s amazing to me. In 30 years of writing the column, “Around the Campfire,” I have never gotten more than 38 comments to any one column. Four years ago I did a column called “The Culture of Gallup” that generated the 38 comments. All of them agreed that Gallup is a frontier, racist town.

There have been many years that my column has generated no comments at all The 780-plus is no doubt due to the huge impact that ICTMN is having in Indian country.

Dwanna L. Robertson wrote the most thoughtful and cogent response. She said, rightly, that the process is difficult. As a person who wishes he had found scholarships as a senior in high school, I appreciate that comment. It was daunting to me. Even though I was valedictorian of our little high school, I had no idea how to find scholarships, and no idea how to win them.

Instead of going to college, I spent the next five months trying to find a job. It was Eisenhower days, and jobs were hard to find. I still remember how happy I was to report to work that first day.

It took me 11 years to finish my bachelor’s degree. Instead of finishing at 22, I finished at 29. I still wish someone had taken me by the hand and led me through the scholarship process. It was a colorful, but difficult 11 years—with five and a half of them spent in the military—including 17 months in Nam.

Dwanna is right; most scholarships go to people just out of high school. But Dr. Harriet Skye, Lakota, one of our students, finished her B.A. at the age of 62, continued to an M.A., and then on to a Ph.D. Delbert James, Navajo, finished his B.A. in social work at the age of 48, and is still working in his field. Mary Puthoff, Lakota, got her teaching credential and degree at the age of 55. Out of our 775 graduates, at least 100, possibly 200, were “nontraditional” or older students.

I never said Native American students were lazy or disinterested. I don’t blame the students at all. I have said that the schools are not doing much of anything to help prepare them for college. Out of 850 counselors on our mailing list, last year only 16 of them responded to our queries asking them to help Indian students get into college and find scholarships. That’s less than two percent. There’s something wrong with the system, folks.

She’s also right about the competitive nature of the scholarship process. I wish I could do something about it, but I know I can’t. Many of our Native students do not bloom in high school. They are 25 or 35 before they start to get serious about school. The dropout rate for Indian students in college is about 82 percent, and colleges are doing almost nothing to fix that, either.

I love the fact that we have a dialogue going. Most of the time, in the 26 years I have been running a scholarship program, I cannot get anyone to talk to me. Hello!

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dwanna's picture
Dear Dr. Chavers, Hello! Thank you for such a thoughtful and wonderful response to varied feedback--some quite challenging, particularly from me, I'm afraid. I appreciate your humility and graciousness in this matter. Please forgive my strong response, but I truly believe that my life's purpose is to speak for many who are not in a position to do so. Therefore, I'm very happy we're talking, too! It's always interesting to me to discover the particular pieces I write that resonate with others, and those that fall flat. The scholarship issue obviously struck a universal chord throughout Indian Country. It means Native folk want improve their life chances, and that they are trying to attend college and find ways to fund it. It also means they are not rewarded for their efforts. This should motivate us to rally our efforts in finding ways to stem the dropout rates of Native students and fund those who stay! I think it starts with each Native person that made it through the university obstacle course to achieve a higher education degree. If each of us promise to sign up to be an accountability partner--through email, Skype, phone correspondence--with at least one student per semester or throughout one student's college career, we could have a real mentoring program on our hands. Coming back to what started all of this, we could bring a committee together of the best and brightest to create a way to help students learn how to navigate scholarship purgatory. It also starts with your scholarship program, Dr. Chavers. These are just some ideas. I'm sure there are many others with greater merit out there. Hoccictos Eyasket (humbly I write), Dwanna
vanp.rosander's picture
As with anything it's all about perception, The college scouts say don't recruit from Indian Country.."Excellent Athletes" But....never stay in college always run back home to the Rez..I have an opinion on this and it goes like this..most of the Tribes were put in the worst places way outside of where anybody wanted to live..so no real jobs to speak of..nothing that would make you a $100,000 a year. So the Mentality of the Reservations were the same as any small town U.S.A. maybe only 1% or less got out to do anything..the rest fell into complacency can't go up cause some other tribal member is already there. can't go sideways because some other tribal member is "Already" there with no plans to leave..so the option is move away from the Rez and find a job, join the Military or stay put and hope somebody passes away so a spot opens up. Getting an education is an option and then you run into situations 1&2..and your left with a Higher Education then the person working there. On a different note..Reservation schools do not, I repeat Do not prepare you for anything close to college..much less High school. or the job market...It's sad that at one point we only had two council members with college now we have four..out of eleven.
swrussel's picture
I apologize for my lateness to this conversation. I did not consider Dr. Chavers' observation that Indian students leave scholarships begging to be controversial. It matches my own observations in my second career. Ms. Robertson is right to point out some of the reasons why. My own history: dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. Did not arrive at the university until age 21. Did not get my Masters until age 46, but I was living on the JD I got at age 28. I too started late because I did not know the lay of the land and I had no family or close friends who did either. My tribal government was at the time in its dormant phase and by the time it emerged I had already found the doorways on my own. I do think shining light on the path is an essential function of tribal government.
candyo's picture
There are many scholarships for Native American students and all it would take for someone to access them is to go on a computer at a library or if a friend or relative has a computer. Some of them are offered from your enrolled tribe and it is a big plus to be an enrolled member. Students can also, ask for help from school advisors or counselors. Getting an education is the only way to get out of the situations people are in. You can also, get scholarships from the things you like such as Coca-cola Bottling Companies or Pepsi, many big corporations will help people who are trying to fund their educations. Don't be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in that because college fees are so high and they seem to be going higher. I know because I have helped my own children find scholarships and funding for college. One got a full-ride through his football and athletic abilities. One just graduated from an engineering five year program and he was able to obtain a scholarship through AISES because his grades were so good. Everyone needs a leg-up when it comes to a college education and there are people out-there who will give you a chance, you just have to do a little searching. Don't wait til you graduate from high school start now and google what you want to know. It's up to the individual and what degree he wants to get. Go for it!
Anonymous's picture
I appreciated that article and used it as an assignment in my class. First, we read it in class and then students took it home to share it with their parents or guardians. I asked that parents make comments and sign it. Thanks for sharing that!