November is Native American Heritage Month and we will use this space to reflect on the Foundation’s mission to Indigenous Peoples. Later in the month, we will publish pieces from Sherry Salway-Black, who has been a member of our Board since 2006, and from Rick Williams, Foundation Consultant on programs serving Indigenous Peoples.
The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been investing in Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada for 25 years and has granted about $20 million towards that end. Currently, grants in support of Indigenous Peoples total $1.5 million per year. The Foundation’s strategy is to assist economic development through business and entrepreneurship education.
One of the Foundation’s programs is the Entrepreneurship Scholarship, created in 1995. It provides scholarship assistance for students pursuing business or entrepreneurship education. The theory is that the trickle-down effect of this will contribute to business and economic development on Indian reservations.
The Scholarship program has been expanded to serve Indigenous students at institutions other than tribal colleges. Several of our tribal college partners, with our help, have been able to build endowments.
The College of Menominee Nation, Oglala Lakota College and Salish Kootenai College, for example, have built substantial endowments which will fund scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students in perpetuity. They no longer need Foundation grants for this purpose. The Foundation has also worked with A*CF to build an endowed fund to provide scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students at any tribal college.
The Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program has helped over a thousand students graduate from tribal colleges and universities.
Another Foundation program is the country’s only MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship. This was created in 2001 and was intended to support tribal college faculty in their delivery of the Entrepreneurship Scholarship program. It was designed to
be taken at distance during the traditional academic year and on campus in the summer. This would allow faculty to continue teaching, while obtaining the MBA.
The MBA was funded by the Foundation but developed and delivered by Gonzaga University. The Foundation interviewed several candidates and chose Gonzaga, mainly because Gonzaga really wanted it. Gonzaga’s original mission was to serve American Indians and this was an opportunity to honor that history. Gonzaga also has a highly ranked MBA program and that helped tip the balance.
Gonzaga’s MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship has produced 59 graduates and is still going strong. In 2013 First Nations Development Institute conducted a
comprehensive evaluation of the program and found that most of its graduates had returned to their respective communities and participated in virtually every aspect of life there. As of 2013, sixteen of the program’s graduates were managing their own businesses, one was a tribal college president and others were in senior positions in tribal and federal governments, colleges and business. In 2014 the Foundation and Gonzaga University entered into an agreement to endow the MBA program with a $2 million fund, which will provide permanent scholarship support for students in this program.
MBA-AIE graduates have traveled and expanded the path for students coming behind them. They act as mentors and role models for Indigenous students, particularly those from 4 year tribal college degree programs, who can pursue the MBA-AIE and continue to live in their community.
Economic growth through education is a long term proposition. There is no quick fix. Development comes from within the community and it takes time. That said, economic growth in Indian Country is increasing. In 2005, the Harvard Project on American Economic Development found in its study of socioeconomic change between the 1990 and 2000 census that “The growth in reservation residents’ per capita income was approximately three times the growth experienced by the average U.S. citizen” (Taylor and Kalt, ix).
The Foundation will continue to invest in the Entrepreneurship Scholarship, the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship and in other programs that contribute to economic development in Indian County. We will, in the words of Joseph Marshall III, “Keep Going.”