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    Tribal Relations Committee co-chairs to approach University of Wyoming about financial support for Native students

    The co-chairs of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations plan to attend a University of Wyoming Board of Trustees meeting this year to discuss the potential to provide more financial support to Native American students.

    “We need to have some more outreach so we can better coordinate and figure out how we can support these students,” Wyoming Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, said during a Select Committee meeting this month in Fort Washakie. “I think it would be helpful for us to understand what (UW’s) position is so we can move forward.”

    Financial support

    The Select Committee discussed several options for providing additional financial support for Native American students this month, including full tuitions waivers, additional endowments, and state matching funds.

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    “We’ll continue to come up with new ways to see how we can target some efforts,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot of things we could sort through – but we need the university to help us.”

    Data shows “there are more (Native) students applying for money and financial assistance than there is money available,” she explained.

    For example, a report from UW law student Alyson White Eagle showed that “only 13 percent of Native students receive the Hathaway” scholarship – the “largest source of scholarship-based support for in-state students at UW.”

    Central Wyoming College Vice President of Student Affairs Cory Daly said “ACT scores tend to be the barrier” keeping Native American students from accessing the Hathaway Scholarship, particularly at its “higher levels.”

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    The Select Committee heard testimony this month from local educators who are working to improve those scores.

    The Tribally funded Chief Washakie Memorial Endowment, Northern Arapaho Endowment, and Sky People Higher Education Endowment are also available specifically for Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone students, White Eagle said, but in recent years “the amount of applicants far exceeded the availability of scholarship monies” from those sources.

    Her report indicates that, for the 2023-2024 school year, the Chief Washakie Endowment received 28 applications and made 17 awards; the Northern Arapaho Endowment received 14 applications and made four awards; and the Sky People Endowment received seven applications and made four awards.

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    “A lot of students missed out,” White Eagle said.

    UW also has 15 scholarships for Native students that provided almost $161,000 to 36 recipients during the 2022-2023 academic year, she said, but those numbers only fulfilled 39 percent of Native student need.

    “The need is not being met even halfway,” White Eagle wrote in her report. “This disparity results in higher loan debt and a higher burden from the cost of living, which can lead Native students to have to leave the university early.”

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    Less than 1 percent of the study body population reports to be Native American, she added – another factor that could negatively impact Native student retention.

    “It’s hard to be one of the only ones in these classrooms sometimes, and to kind of feel like nobody knows the struggles of pursing a higher education as a Native student,” White Eagle said, speaking from personal experience. “That’s actually why I went ahead and did the research that I did, to hopefully help promote the Tribes’ interest in a tuition waiver for Native students.”

    Tribal officials requested the study after meeting with the UW Board of Trustees last year to discuss financial support for Native American students, Northern Arapaho Business Council Co-Chair Lee Spoonhunter told the Select Committee this month.

    “(The) Trustees asked for … the numbers,” he said. “So that was done today. The data was presented.”

    He had wanted to present the study in front of the UW Board of Trustees in January, he noted, but when he asked to be included on their agenda, they told him, “No, you need to go to Tribal Select, this is a decision for them and for the state legislative body; they’re the ones who are going to decide.”

    “So that’s how we got to where we are,” he said. “We’re looking for your help (to) provide a quality higher education and the best opportunities for Tribal members that at one time lived on the land where the university sits.”

    White Eagle’s report included information about property ownership and revenue generation at UW – a land-grant university that was established as part of the Morrill Act of 1862.

    “Wyoming was granted slightly less than 90,000 acres from the Morrill Act to establish the university,” White Eagle wrote. “The U.S. paid $1,954 to tribes for the 90,000 acres that the UW received, (and) the principal endowment raised from the sale of this acreage is $627,809.”

    In other words, White Eagle said, “UW has made a return on revenue generated from the sale of these lands from the Morrill Act at a rate of 321 times.”

    “Despite this considerable revenue generation, UW’s Native student population (and) Native faculty staff population is pretty low,” she said. “UW is in a situation where they have the opportunity to strengthen their relationship (with) the Tribes here in Wyoming and … better equip students who are coming from the reservation to be financially successful while they’re here.”

    Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, co-chairs the Select Committee on Tribal Relations and said she would accompany Ellis to meet with the UW Board of Trustees this year to further discuss the topic of financial aid for Native students.

    “I’m in for sure,” she said. “I think that would go a long way towards that proactive step to saying, ‘We’re serious, we’re interested, we’re here.’”

    NABC Councilmember Karen Returns To War noted that “both Tribes need to have a seat at that table also.”

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