Easy Yasana, a member of the Klamath Modak tribe in Oregon, has always wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but he did not have the time or ability to do so. Her husband is an elementary school physical education teacher; He was working full time at Nike Inc. They wanted to save money to support their growing family.
“We’re trying to survive here,” he said. He remembers asking himself, “How do I raise that fund? I have no way to have a family and pursue my academic dreams.”
Yasana, now a mother of two, has found a way. The Native Forward Scholars Fund, a national scholarship fund for Native American students, formerly known as the American Indian Graduate Center, financed her undergraduate education, including accommodation costs at Gonzaga University in Washington State. He earned an MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship in May while continuing to work as a value brand manager at Nike and as Chief of Staff of the company’s Native American Employees Network.
He is now thinking of doing a PhD.
“It has completely opened my eyes to other opportunities within the Indian country that we can tackle,” he said of the Entrepreneurship Program. “I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but in the near future, I’m thinking about what a PhD might be. Look at myself and then how can I influence the students in that place now. “
Speaking of scholarship, Yasana became emotional. Funding has freed her from extra stress and debt, but more than that, it has validated her dream and reassured her that people in her community believe “this person can be successful, so I’m going to give them the resources they need.”
Native Forward has awarded more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students since its inception more than 50 years ago. The fund was created primarily to support Native Americans with a bachelor’s degree, and about 60 percent of the scholarship goes to undergraduate students. The company is currently in the process of expanding its support services and is hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree among Native Americans.
A 2018 report by the Education Trust, a research and advocacy organization that focuses on closing the equity gap in education, found that only 24 percent of Native American, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian adults have associate degrees or higher college degrees. To 47 percent of white adults. Only 4.8 percent of indigenous adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 13.4 percent of white adults.
“It’s a completely procedural issue,” said Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. He noted that the low enrollment rates among high school and college graduates among Native Americans led to fewer Native Americans going to graduate school, which means “there are not many American Indians with PhDs – not many role models to emulate young American Indians.”
Meanwhile, tribal colleges offer undergraduate research programs and encourage students to continue their education, but these institutions generally lack the funds to maintain their own permanent undergraduate programs, he said. As a result, students have to go to graduate school elsewhere, where they can be “the only ভারতীয় American Indian or Alaska Native in that program.”
Native Forward is launching a new mentorship program that draws on its alumni network to help scholarship recipients navigate through graduate school. The fund has begun offering rewards dedicated to supporting doctoral research and mid-year scholarships to keep students financially sound throughout the academic year. Rewards are now available for federally recognized tribal members as well as students who are descendants of tribal members or part of a state-recognized tribe.
“From an organizational point of view, financing has become the No. 1 obstacle for our students, hands down,” said Angelique Albert, CEO of Native Forward. He noted that applicants, often from low-income families, have an average of $ 26,000 in unpaid financial needs per year, with the average Native Forward Scholarship being about $ 10,000 per year. About 4 percent of the country’s nearly 15,000 Native American graduate students receive awards from Native Forwards.
“There is still a huge funding gap,” he said.
Albert said students need more than financial support to survive and thrive in college.
“You need a mentor,” he added. “You need a culturally integrated path” which is why each award recipient has a “one-on-one relationship” with a native forward staff member who can provide guidance alongside formal advisors.
Professor Emerita Henrietta Mann, formerly of Montana State University, chair of Bozeman’s Native American Studies, a former recipient and mentor. After earning his master’s degree in English from Oklahoma State University in the 1970s, he was hired by the University of California, Berkeley to teach Native American Studies. He was interested in teaching Native American students, but “sadly, I did not have any Indian students in my class.”
Mann, who previously directed the Federal Office for Indian Education and served as Deputy Secretary to the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, said he hoped to be a role model for Native American students who want to stay in college. .
“I was heartbroken because I felt they were the ones I really wanted to help, to help them understand their history, their culture and where they came from.”
Mann thought he could set an example for Native American students and decided to pursue a doctorate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico.
“I wanted them to achieve all their dreams of being that scientist, that educator, that administrator … that we desperately need, because we often matriculate and get educated in a world where you rarely see another brown face.” He said.
She took her family, her then-sick husband, their four children and her aunt to Albuquerque, determined to get the degree. He borrowed and received a “moderate” scholarship from Native Forward. He could not remember the amount but said it seemed like “luck” then. It was after she had already struggled to pay for her bachelor’s degree that she was able to sustain herself in food care packages from her family.
“I don’t want my grandchildren … going through what I gave them,” he said.
Educational inequality among Native Americans is gaining new attention as higher education leaders and state and federal policymakers face the country’s past. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dave Holland, the first Native American in the position to pursue a similar national effort in Canada, announced last year an initiative to examine the problematic history of federal boarding schools for Native American students. These schools were known for malnutrition, poor health care, and widespread physical, sexual, and verbal abuse of students.
Albert, CEO of Native Forward, said the federal boarding school’s “harmful” legacy still haunts tribal communities and inspires Native students to become teachers and professors “to educate our own people.”
Mann said boarding schools not only had a policy of undermining the Native American language and culture but also provided students with a second-rate education that made them ill to pursue advanced degrees and professional careers. These schools provided “very elementary, a very basic kind of education — reading, writing and arithmetic” and then half a day was usually devoted to learning what kind of business: shoe making, blacksmith, baking, cooking, household, sewing, “he said.
“We never wanted to be educated to be doctors, scientists, engineers,” he said. “We have to be second class citizens, learn to speak English without any cultural relevance. The beauty of it is that we have survived. “
Mann said seeing students like Yasana get advanced degrees and get the financial support they need to rewrite that narrative makes her optimistic about the future of Native Americans in graduate education.
“When I look at young people like Easy, my heart just sings,” he said.