Native American Scholarships
Do You Qualify for Tribal Funds?
Native Americans and Native Alaskans have been historically under-represented in the halls of higher education. Fortunately, the years of prejudice and exclusion are coming to an end. Today, there is a national imperative to encourage and support all minorities, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, to pursue a college education. This drive to diversify the national student body has led to a wide range of scholarship opportunities targeting students of Native American ancestry.
Scholarships for Native Americans and Native Alaskans take many different forms. There are a few general scholarships available that provide funding to undergraduate students without a declared major. However, the majority of scholarships dedicated to Native Americans are subject-specific, and are designed to encourage students of American Indian ancestry to pursue careers in professional fields in which they have been historically under-represented.
Scholarships for Native Americans and Native Alaskans are sponsored by a variety of sources, including:
- Tribal Colleges
- Tribal Councils
- Federal and State Governments
- Colleges and Universities
- Private Corporations and Professional Associations
Are you a Member in a Federally Recognized Tribe?
Before applying for any scholarship programs dedicated to Native American students, you will have to be able to demonstrate, with acceptable documentation, that you are at least ¼ American Indian. This can be a time consuming process, but it is an absolute requirement for all scholarships dedicated to Native American students.
Proving your Native American ancestry should begin with birth certificates and family records. You will also need to contact your tribal elders to trace your family’s history within the tribe. You should also consult the Dawes Rolls, which are United States census documents prepared during the American Indian relocation of the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. These census documents are a comprehensive listing of the people recognized by the Dawes Commission as members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes.
The following resources should be used to trace your American Indian ancestry:
- Family and tribal records
- The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs
- Tahtonka, a Federally prepared guide to the 562 officially recognized Tribal Nations
- The Dawes Indian Census Rolls
Once you have gathered all of the necessary documentation that proves a direct line of Native American descent, you will need to apply to the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. The CDIB is required for all financial aid programs dedicated to Native Americans and Native Alaskans, and will serve as documentary proof of your American Indian Heritage. With your CDIB in hand, it is time to begin your search for scholarship programs dedicated to the needs of Native American students.
Federal Programs for Native Americans
Any search for college funding should begin with the Federal government. The White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities was created by executive order to improve education opportunities for Native Americans. The WHITCU provides detailed information on all 33 fully accredited Tribal run colleges and universities in the United States. The WHITCU also works with the Bureau of Indian Education to administer a variety of scholarships, grants and fellowships dedicated to the needs of college-bound Native American students.
The following scholarships are offered through the Bureau of Indian Education.
- The BIE Higher Education Grant/Scholarship Program – This program offers financial assistance to college-bound students who are members of a Federally recognized Tribe. Students must be enrolled in an accredited college or university, and must be working towards an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Award amounts vary, and are determined on the basis of financial need.
- The Embry-Riddle Scholarship In Science and Technology – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers this scholarship in cooperation with National Science Foundation. The scholarship is awarded to academically talented and financially challenged students who are enrolled in one of the university’s computer engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or software engineering courses. Special emphasis is placed on minority applicants, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans. The award is valued at $10,000, and is renewable for up to four years.
- The Indian Health Service Scholarship – Three different levels of scholarships are available for Native American and Native Alaskan students pursuing degrees and careers in the healthcare industry. The three IHS Scholarships include the Preparatory Scholarship, the Pre-Graduate Scholarship and the Health Professions Scholarship. These programs are designed to encourage and support Native American and Native Alaskan students at every stage of their medical training.
State-Based Aid in Areas Populated by Native Americans
Many states with large Indian populations often offer scholarships and grants dedicated to the needs of Native American students. These state supported programs offer valuable financial assistance to Native American students who may be struggling to meet the rising costs of college tuition. Some state-based Native American scholarships will be targeted to students pursuing degrees in certain critical need fields, such as healthcare, education and law. The availability of these scholarships and grants will vary greatly depending on the state and the size of its Native American population. Interested parties should contact their state’s Department of Higher Education for details on any financial aid programs which may be available to Native American or Native Alaskan students.
The following examples are typical of the types of scholarships that are available to Native American students at the state and local level.
- The North Dakota University System offers the North Dakota Indian Scholarship. Between 150 and 175 scholarships are awarded annually to Native American students who meet the program’s academic and financial eligibility requirements. Award amounts range from $800 to $2000 per academic year.
- The Illinois Student Assistance Commission offers the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship. This program is open to minority students, including Native Americans, who are residents of the state and are pursuing a career in teaching. Awards are determined by academic achievement, financial need and ethnic background. The maximum award amount is $5000 per year.
- Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education offers the Minnesota Indian Scholarship for undergraduate and graduate students of Native American ancestry. Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited college or university within the state. Awards are determined on the basis of financial need. Undergraduates may be eligible for up to $4000 in scholarship funds, while graduate students may be eligible for up to $6000.
Scholarships Sponsored by Professional Associations
The private sector is a rich source for scholarships and grants dedicated to advancing the professional opportunities of Native Americans. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been historically under-represented in many professional fields. Through scholarships and grant programs corporations and professional organizations are working to diversify the country’s professional workforce, and to encourage more Native Americans to pursue careers in science and industry. These programs offer valuable opportunities to Native American and Native Alaskan students pursuing their educational and professional ambitions.
Native American students searching for scholarships from the private sector should look for programs sponsored by businesses and associations closely allied to their field of interest. For example, a student of Cherokee ancestry who is interested in computer science will want to look for Native American scholarships supported by software companies, computer engineering firms, and professional associations of computer specialists.
The following examples should better illustrate the types of scholarship programs offered by the private sector for students of Native American descent.
- The Gates Millennium Scholars Fund is made possible by a generous donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program provides scholarship opportunities for scholastically talented minority students, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, who are pursuing degrees in mathematics and science. Students must be nominated for the award by a principle, teacher, or guidance counselor. Award are determined on the basis of financial need, course of study, and total cost of tuition.
- The Ford Motor Company Tribal Scholars Program offers $5000 in annual scholarship funds to Native American students pursuing degrees in mathematics, science, business or education. Eligible applicants must be in their sophomore year of college, and must have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Final award determination is made on the basis of financial need.
- The National Society of Professional Engineers administers the Maureen L. & Howard N. Blitman, P.E., Scholarship to Promote Diversity in Engineering. The annual scholarship is awarded to high school seniors from an ethnic minority who have been accepted in an approved engineering program at an accredited four year university. The award is $5000, to be disbursed in two installments during the student’s freshman year.
- The Society for American Archaeology administers their own Native American Scholarship Fund. The SAA offers four annual scholarships, including the Arthur C. Parker Scholarship, the NSF Scholarship for Archaeological Training, the Native American Undergraduate Archaeology Scholarship, and the Native American Graduate Archaeology Scholarship. Award amounts range from $4000 to $10,000.
Scholarships from Tribes and Advocacy Groups
Finally, Native American and Native Alaskan students should investigate those scholarship opportunities funded and supported by individual Tribal Nations. Many tribes support their own scholarship funds, and offer financial aid to deserving members. Students should also consider programs supported by charitable foundations and advocacy groups that are dedicated to the needs and welfare of the American Indian population. Again, like many of the scholarships available from the private sector, financial aid programs supported by the Tribal Nations and by Indian advocacy groups are often subject-specific and are designed to encourage Native American students to pursue degrees and careers in specific fields.
The following few examples should give students an idea of the types of scholarship programs offered by individual tribes, and by charitable foundations.
- The American Indian College Fund is one of the largest advocacy groups in the country working for the benefit of Native Americans. The IACF sponsors a wide range of scholarship programs for students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The IACF offers Scholarships for Students Attending a Tribal College or University, Scholarships for Students Attending a Non-Tribal College and Scholarships for Graduate Students Attending a Non-Tribal College or University.
- The Cherokee Nation sponsors a wide range of scholarships for members of the tribe. To be eligible, students must be recognized citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Current scholarship programs include the Valedictorian – Salutatorian Scholarship, the Cherokee Promise Scholarship and the Direct Studies Scholarship. Award amounts vary according to program, course of study and financial need.
- The Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes offers a variety of grants and scholarships for tribal members who demonstrate the requisite level of financial need. Applicants must submit their Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, along with a letter detailing their educational goals and commitment to their tribe.
- The Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship & Financial Assistance works with a wide range of businesses, colleges, and private sponsors to provide scholarship and financial aid opportunities for members of the Navajo tribe. Among the many programs administered by the ONNSFA are the Young Native Writers Essay Scholarship Contest, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Scholarship and the Navajo Generating Station Navajo Scholarship.
Native Americans and Native Alaskans have access to an impressive array of financial aid opportunities designed to help them pursue their college and professional ambitions. Though their history within the United States has often been troubled, and the path difficult, new and enlightened attitudes have paved the way for increased understanding and improved opportunities. With the right scholarship, Native American students can now achieve their goals of a first class education and a bright and productive future.
Native American and Native Alaskan students will also want to refer to our section on Grants for Native American Students.