Discover How to Qualify for Native American Scholarships

Are you looking at your next step in education and wondering how to qualify for Native American Scholarships? Native American people often have a rich cultural and tribal history. Many have grown up on a protected reservation and therefore have gone through schooling that came out of specific tribal organizations. American Indian and Alaska Native, or Indigenous are interchangeable terms for the purpose of this article. Historically, Native Americans in the US have been a severely underrepresented group when it comes to financial support for education. When considering college options and funding, this may mean that you need to do some research about how to qualify for Native American scholarships. If you are a person that belongs to one of the 574 US federally-recognized tribes in the United States, keep reading for all the different types of scholarships that might be available to you and how to ensure you can receive the support you need. 

The history of Native American education in the US

If we look back in time, there is a history of mistreatment, isolation and financial strain in the Native American tribal communities. From the time Europeans began arriving in North America in the late 1400s and early 1500s, Native Americans were being driven from the land they owned and had been in oppression for years. Whether from war or illness brought over from Europe, the Native American tribes were becoming smaller or even extinguished. Fast forward to the mid 1800s, “Indian Boarding Schools” were established in many different places in the US. The purpose of these schools was to help assimilate Native American students to European cultures. They were places of much abuse–physical, mental, and emotional–and in most cases, Native American children weren’t treated in a humane way. In many ways, this set the stage for the attitude towards Native education and it would take years for stakeholders to pass meaningful laws to ensure the protection and autonomy of the tribes when it came to how their youth were educated.

Modern Native American education

Today, there is still much work to be done when it comes to ensuring equal education rights to our nation’s Native youth. The fact is that there are over 644,000 Native American students in our public schools today. Native American students’ academic success still lags behind their white peers. According to an article published in 2020 by The Northwest Institute Policy for Research, 1 in 3 Native Americans are living in poverty. The article gives some interesting insight into the reasons behind the enormous income inequality that Native Americans face in the United States. Interestingly, the article states that research results show the largest driver of poverty among Native American communities is unemployment and not lack of education. While this might be true, the argument persists that a college education brings more opportunity for employment that can be found in today’s economy. That said, both the Federal and State governments need to figure out how to work with the tribal communities and governments in order to help them understand how to qualify for Native Americans scholarships in this country. 

According to the National Congress of American Indians, in the seven states with the highest Native population, less than 50% of Native students graduate from college. Of those that do, very few are able to continue on to college or university due to lack of financial resources. Even if students are able to enroll and begin college, often the homesickness and lack of wrap-around resources mean that some don’t make it through their first year.

Helping Native American youth figure out how to qualify for Native American scholarships

So, if you are of Native American descent, and are in school, or have children who are in high school, it’s possible you are thinking about how to qualify for Native American scholarships. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, there are a lot of great options for financial aid and Native American Scholarships. The fact is, if you are an enrolled citizen of a Native tribe in the US–a minority that has been underrepresented and underfunded in this country for the whole of history–your family also deserves a college education if that’s what you want. Let’s explore the steps to take to apply for, win and use Native American scholarships in the US. 

What are the biggest requirements when it comes to how to qualify for Native American scholarships?

If you are at the beginning of your scholarship application journey, you may find it helpful to check out some of our most frequently asked questions in order to help orient yourself to the process. There are a great many scholarships available to students of Native American descent, and these scholarship opportunities can be both merit-based and/or needs-based. 

1. One of the biggest requirements when it comes to how to qualify for Native American scholarships is in proving your Native American ancestry

There are a lot of different policies surrounding this and it depends on what type of scholarship you apply for and who is granting the funds. For most scholarships that are supporting Native American students, the first steps in eligibility will depend largely on their background. 

There are many ways to go about this and it is currently still depending on individual tribal policies, but blood quantum measurement is one way of determining a students’ “Native eligibility.” Blood quantum helps to measure the amount of “Native American blood” you have-or specific number of generations from someone with a full Native American background. 

In order to prove Native American ancestry, you might need to provide documentation for your tribal affiliation. If you are unsure where to start for this step, a good place to start is the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

2. Grades matter, but they aren’t everything

An important part of how to qualify for Native American scholarships is looking at the whole students. Grade point average (GPA) is important, but seeing how a student contributes to, and is an active part of their community is also a big factor. Part of the reason this is so important, is that tribal communities need their youth to have these education opportunities and then come back into their communities to be leaders; or, to be Native leaders representing the tribes in greater society. One important component in supporting students in their higher education experience is the student services and student organizations. Students who receive funding to go to college but don’t engage with support services, are likely to discontinue their college experience. Reasons vary, but many Native American students experience homesickness and struggle to fit in in their new and different environments. Scholarship foundations will look for students that are an active part of their local and tribal communities and therefore might be more likely to go back and use their education to help lift up others in similar situations.

3. Grants or Scholarships?

Although there is some confusion between the two, grants and scholarships both provide aid to those in need. The difference between the two are the qualifications needed to receive these types of aid. 

Grants tend to be on a needs-based qualification and the amount given is calculated based on their financial situation. Things to keep in mind are that grants never have to be repaid and the grant amount may vary yearly based on your income.

Scholarships are thought to be more merit based types of aid where certain qualifications and requirements need to be met. These requirements vary depending on the scholarship and may be race, region, or degree specific while others have no requirements at all. When you initially apply for a scholarship, the requirements should be listed and proper documentation may be required when submitting your application.

Cobell can help you figure out how to qualify for Native American scholarshipsAt Cobell, we pride ourselves in being able to help our students work through the sometimes difficult process in earning the opportunity that previous generations in their family may not have had. Contact us today for more information about how to qualify for Native American scholarships!

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