Scholarships, Grants and Other Funding for Indigenous, Hawai'ian Native, and Alaskan Native Students
There is no reason to wait until Indigenous People's Day or Native American Heritage Month to recognize just how hard things are—and have been—for America's Indigenous communities. In the United States and Canada, one particular trauma centers on boarding schools and their history of forcibly "re-educating" native children; these institutions forced generations to do away with their culture and language, and recent reports throughout North America have uncovered just how heinous some of the missionary schools in the U.S. and Canada truly were.
While nothing could possibly make up for the past, acknowledging that cultural harm was done through schools is important to turning the tide on the low numbers of Native enrollment in higher education institutions—and even lower numbers of college completion.
A late 2020 report by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) explains that "because Native Americans (both American Indians and Alaska Natives) comprise only 1 percent of the U.S. undergraduate population and less than 1 percent of the graduate population, these students are often left out of postsecondary research and data reporting due to small sample size. What data is available indicates that only 16 percent of Native Americans attain a bachelor's degree or higher and only 9 percent attain associate degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students."
Specific needs before enrollment include college prep courses, help navigating standardized tests, and parent-student conversations about what to expect for life after high school. As of 2017, "21 percent of Native American children under 18 years of age lived in a household with a parent who completed a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 52 percent of white households." This means many young Indigenous people are navigating the complicated college application process as first-generation students—and battling a lot of historical discrimination to boot.
Furthermore, specific needs after enrollment include curriculums that are affirming, flexible class schedules, and financial aid that minimizes debt burdens. For these reasons, nearly 90 percent of Native American college students enroll in Tribal Colleges and Universities. And while there are lots of financial aid opportunities geared towards helping Indigenous students fund college education and supporting their endeavors all the way to graduation, these funding opportunities can be hard to comb through—and the applications may be cumbersome to complete.
In addition to the numerous tribal organizations that support students, the nine institutions below want to give Native American and Indigenous students all the support they need to succeed in college. Here's a brief run-down of scholarship and grant sources that have consistently delivered financial support, mentorship, and post-graduation employment opportunities that have made a real difference for Native students across North America.
The Gates Scholarship
The Gates Scholarship is a highly competitive scholarship to help outstanding minority high school seniors from low-income households pay for expenses above what is offered by financial aid. Each year, 300 students receive this prestigious award. The deadline is Sept 15 for high school seniors from at least one of the following ethnicities: African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native (for American Indian/Alaska Native, proof of tribal enrollment will be required), Asian and Pacific Islander American, and/or Hispanic American. This highly competitive opportunity is for students with a minimum cumulative weighted GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale.
Catching the Dream
Catching the Dream (CTD) was founded in 1986 to help improve the quality of life in Indian communities through higher education. This program takes applications three times per year (September 15, March 15, and April 30). According to the website, the organization has three separate scholarship programs, and scholarships range from $500 to $5,000 per year. CTD also reports that 100 percent of its students who have graduated with a degree in math, engineering, science, business, education, or computers are working.
The AISES Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace Scholarship
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society makes it simple for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous peoples of Canada to access scholarships through the Online Scholarship Application Information System (OASIS) provided by Indigenous Education, Inc. The General Application Profile can be submitted year-round and students are automatically matched with eligible and available scholarship opportunities. The AISES Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Scholarship is open until September 28. In addition to $5000 academic scholarships, further assistance may be available for students with children.
The Chickasaw Nation Scholarship and Grant
The Chickasaw Nation offers its students higher education grants and textbook grants for students who maintain at least a 2.0 GPA each semester, and a general scholarship and fee assistance grant for those who take three or more credit hours each term and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applications are accepted three times per year: fall (July 1–Sept. 15); spring (Dec. 1–Feb. 15); and summer (May 1–July 1).
The DAR Scholarship
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) offers a one-time $4,000 scholarship "to help Native Americans students of any age, any tribe and in any state striving to get an education at the undergraduate or graduate levels." While undergraduate students are given priority, awards are determined based on financial need and academic achievement. Proof of Native American lineage or tribal status, financial need, and a grade point average of 3.25 or higher is required. Applications are expected to open from November 1, 2021 through January 31, 2022.
UHO Office of Hawai'ian Affairs offers a Hoʻonaʻauao Scholarship for Native Hawaiian students at any of the University of Hawaiʻi's campuses. From October 1 to March 1 of each year, current and aspiring students seeking an undergrad or graduate degree or enrolled in a vocational program can apply online through the UH System Common Scholarship Application. This program helps fund tuition and fees, and offers recipients advising and mentoring, leadership development, and cultural workshops.
The Cobell Scholarship
The Cobell Scholarship offers merit- and need-based scholarships to any post-secondary student who is an enrolled member of a U.S. Federally-Recognized Tribe and is a full-time student (or soon will be) in an accredited institution. Before undergrad and graduate-level scholarship applications open on December 15, 2021, there's ample time to learn more about Elouise Cobell, of the Blackfeet Reservation, after whom this scholarship was named.
The Full Circle Scholarship
The American Indian College Fund offers the Full Circle Scholarship for any Native American U.S. citizen that is a member or descendant of a state or federally recognized tribe. Applicants must have at least a 2.0 grade point average and be enrolled as a full-time student. This scholarship will open February 2022.
The American Indian Education Fund Scholarships
The American Indian Education Fund offers both undergraduate and graduate scholarships for students who identify as Native American, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian. While applications have closed for 2021-2022, this resource offers a Senior-Year At-a-Glance checklist to help high schoolers and their parents prepare for next year. These funding opportunities are expected to open again early next year and to close in April 2022.
In addition, these universities offer specific scholarships and educational support for Native American and indigenous students (this list is not comprehensive of all available opportunities):
- University of Nebraska - Lincoln
- The University of Utah - School of Law and Indigenous Student Programs
- Southwestern Indian Polytechnic University
- Haskell Indian Nations University
- New Mexico State University
- University of Alaska Southeast
- New York Institute of Technology
- University of Michigan
- Michigan State University
- San Juan College