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University of California to Waive Tuition for Indigenous Students — But Not All | Native Americans

LLast week, the University of California announced that the higher education system would waive tuition and student services fees for California residents who are members of federally recognized tribes.

The announcement delighted some California natives, who saw it as a potentially life-changing initiative. But it has drawn strong criticism from many other members of nations not recognized by the federal government and deeply disappointed that an institution that emphasizes acknowledgment of historical wrongs suffered by Indigenous peoples could at the same time exclude so many people from such an important resource.

“Like other Indigenous people who are enrolled, we bear all the historical trauma and the legacy of shortcomings and crimes committed against our people,” said Jayden Lim, a 20-year-old Stanford University student and descendant. of the Pomo Nation of Pinoléville. “Except the main difference is that we don’t get all the benefits of being tribal people.”

The UC initiative came as part of its launch of the Native American Opportunity Plan, which aims to address the underrepresentation of Indigenous students in higher education, including at the University of California. As of fall 2021, of the nearly 300,000 students enrolled at the University of California, only 0.5% were Indigenous, according to the UC website.

“I hope this new program benefits our students and continues to position the University of California as the institution of choice for Native American students,” University System President Michael V Drake wrote in the letter announcing the initiative.

With 109 federally recognized tribes in California, it’s clear that tuition funding will benefit many natives. The initiative comes as college tuition has become increasingly expensive, burdening many young Americans with debt long into their professional careers. For in-state residents, tuition at the University of California is about $13,100, a sum that does not include the many other costs associated with college, including housing and books.

For the Yurok tribe in northeastern California, the average income is around $11,000. Waived tuition could remove a significant barrier to higher education for the 6,400 tribal members, according to council member Phillip Williams.

“I think it brought so much hope to our young people; hope to our families,” he said. “We have a lot of talented young people here. We have an untapped resource of intelligence and ambition. And I hope it can cultivate that.

Colorado River Indian Tribes president Amelia Flores said she was thrilled to hear the news, but added that her tribe already offers tuition to members who apply and meet certain conditions, such as a 2.5 GPA. But she said the UC program could relieve some of those expenses for the tribe, which in recent years has spent nearly $3 million a year on tuition.

But for some of the thousands of California Natives not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, the announcement was disappointing, even painful.

Lim, the Stanford University student, can trace her native ancestry at least as far back as 1850, when members of her family were massacred in northern California by the US military.

She has an Indian Blood Diploma certificate issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And when she was 15, she gave a speech to then First Lady Michelle Obama to accept an award as a representative of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center’s Young Tribal Ambassadors.

“I come from a group of people who barely survived the colonization of California,” she told the public in 2016.

Lim hopes to attend the University of California, Berkeley for her graduate studies, where a Native American research center is named after her grandfather. But due to a “family feud” within her tribe, she says, she is not registered with a federally recognized tribe and therefore would not be eligible for a tuition scholarship.

“It felt like, once again, everyone in that politically gray area was being swept under the rug, neglected,” she said.

For Lim, it’s a dispute within his tribe; for others, it’s tribal moratoria on registration, being deregistered for domestic political reasons, or being a member of one of dozens of nations that, despite years of struggle, are not not recognized by the federal government.

The particular history of California’s native peoples – including three waves of genocide that scattered and decimated communities, and unratified land treaties that were hidden for decades, leaving most natives homeless – makes the limitation of the funding to members of federally recognized nations, Joely said. Proudfit, director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center and chair of the Department of Native American Studies at California State University San Marcos.

“These different waves of colonization practically wiped us out,” she said. “It’s led to all these dynamic, unfortunate issues, like identity politics, and who’s in and who’s out.”

Proudfit, who is a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, explained that there are many ways to prove someone is native to California that goes beyond registration with a recognized tribe. at the federal level, including a certificate of degree of Indian blood, California rolls and membership in tribes not recognized at the federal level.

Stett Holbrook, a spokesperson for the UC president’s office, said the university system’s decision to limit the initiative to members of federally recognized tribes stems from Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action based on race in public universities in California.

“UC may provide financial aid to students based on their membership in federally recognized tribes, as such membership is legally considered a political classification, rather than a racial classification, due to the sovereign-to-sovereign relationship that the law recognizes between the federal government and federally recognized tribes,” Holbrook said in an email.

He said the UC President’s Native American Advisory Council, which includes tribal leaders, provided input on the plan.

Proudfit suggested the university look to US Code 1679, whose eligibility requirements for California Natives to be eligible for health services include membership in a federally recognized tribe, but also things like being a descendant of an “Indian who resided in California on June 1. 1852” or holding a “trust of interests in the public domain, national forest or reservation subdivisions in California”.

She said: “To be recognized by the federal government as being on the lists for health care, or for quantum of blood or for Indian blood certificate degrees is federal recognition. It shows your political status.

Louise Ramirez, President of the Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation, said her nation has been fighting for federal recognition for decades. She called the UC’s decision “discrimination.”

She added: It ’causes additional trauma to be passed on to future generations’.

In his letter, UC President Drake said in-state residents of California’s non-federally recognized tribes may also receive scholarships from outside organizations.

On Wednesday, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria announced a $2.5 million scholarship fund for UC students from non-state and federally recognized tribes.

In the United States, several states, including Michigan and Minnesota, also have programs that provide tuition assistance for members of federally recognized tribes who attend certain colleges. Others, however, award funding based on broader criteria. Montana’s university system, for example, offers tuition waivers for those enrolled in state or federally recognized countries. or who have at least “a quarter degree of Indian blood”.

Lim sent an email to the university on Monday detailing his family’s history with the school. His grandfather was a lecturer there for nearly 30 years and his mother is now a lecturer:

“My family has worked extremely hard to increase access for California Indians and this policy as it stands will not achieve that result,” she wrote.

She added, “I hope you will be able to quickly revise this policy to rightfully serve and uplift the descendants of all California Indians.”