Skip to main content

Tag Archive for: Indigenous education

Tribal Colleges – Providing Native People with Access to Choice, Visibility and Control

This article was first published on the website of the American Indian College Fund, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. It is one of many organizations that facilitate educational opportunities for Indigenous people, a focus area of the Foundation. JSF also has worked directly with tribal colleges and universities across the country to expand educational opportunities for Indigenous students. The article was shared with permission.

Fall is back-to-school time for college students all over Indian Country. It is a time when I pause and think about how important tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are and how critical it is for mainstream institutions to have support readily available for Native students.

In June, I shared thoughts about the meaning of tribal sovereignty as symbolized by our tribal flags and by the flags of tribal colleges. Now as the fall semester has started across schools nationwide, I have been thinking about how TCUs represent sovereignty and enact sovereign rights.

From their very existence and through the ways they serve students and communities, TCUs are models of tribal sovereignty. Sovereignty is a legal term that emerged to frame the rights and responsibilities of Tribal Nations. I think of sovereignty as reflecting our inherent rights as people—our right to speak our languages, inhabit and have access to our homelands, and to retain our Indigenous ways of living. Because the missions of TCUs are grounded in providing access to traditional knowledge, practices, and values, their programs strengthen sovereignty.

We can also think of sovereignty in terms of self-determination, providing Native people with access to choices, visibility, and control over our own decisions and resources. Tribally chartered institutions, like most TCUs, are established under the authority of tribes to establish their own education systems as acts of self-determination.

American Indian College Fund student ambassadors and scholars. © 2022.

Both students who attend TCUs and the communities these students serve benefit in both symbolic and practical ways from their institutions’ commitment to sovereignty and self-determination. Nearly all TCUs are place-based and are located on or near tribal homelands. Our very locations reclaim lands. The education TCUs provide is restorative, helping Native students to overcome the troubling, often harmful educational effects of boarding schools. Our commitment to revitalizing cultures and languages, fostering extended family relationships, and building economies means Tribal Nations can be healthier and more prosperous. I have always appreciated that one of the most valuable characteristics of TCUs is the community they serve—comprised of the people and the land as a primary source of knowledge.

A few years ago, the College Fund, in collaboration with the Gallup Purdue Index and with funding from the Lumina Foundation, surveyed TCU alumni. Those of us who work with TCUs were not surprised that the survey revealed TCU graduates were two times more likely than their peers to thrive when it came to elements of well-being, such as feeling motivated, enjoying their work (purpose), feeling supported and loved (social), having financial security (financial), having a sense of belonging and relationships (community), and enjoying good health (physical). These survey results affirm that TCUs matter in ways that are critical to self-determination and sovereignty.

Students attending mainstream, often predominately white institutions must also have the attention and support that TCU students receive. They are entitled to this support so they can also receive an education that helps them be healthier and more prosperous.

Students are supported through representation and visibility. When students see themselves reflected in the curriculum and in the faculty, staff, and public actions of their institutions they thrive.

The purpose of education for tribal people is both well-being and self-actualization and supporting the ability to govern ourselves, which is affirmed by many scholars and educators. This occurs more naturally at TCUs because of their programs and locations. Attaining this goal of education at a mainstream institution requires a more conscious effort—not just from the faculty and staff at the institution—but also from the students who attend them.

Native people have a right to go to school wherever they wish, and while the College Fund is deeply committed to TCUs and to the continued establishment of tribal higher education institutions, we recognize that access to an education for Native students must be more broadly supported. When we support Native students in achieving their educational dreams at all higher education institutions, we strengthen Tribal sovereignty.

As the fall semester brings many good things to Native students everywhere, please join me and the College Fund by supporting Native students and advocating for their inclusion and success. Visit the College Fund’s website, www.collegefund.org, to learn more about Native students, tribal colleges, and our work at the American Indian College Fund.


Cheryl Crazy Bull is CEO and President of the American Indian College Fund.

Introducing Native Forward Scholars Fund

Johnson Scholarship Foundation is proud to share the rebranding of its grantee partner, Native Forward Scholars Fund, formerly known as the American Indian Graduate Center. JSF partners with Native Forward to provide academic scholarships for students majoring in accounting or finance as well as exam fee scholarships for individuals pursuing professional licensure. The collaboration is also helping Native Forward establish a scholarship endowment.

This is what Native Forward has to say about how the new name was chosen:

Since the origin of our organization over 50 years ago, our work has supported the forward movement of Native communities — giving rise to new beginnings, advancing new opportunities, and establishing new horizons for our scholars.

We are committed to our goal of empowering Native leaders through national scholarship funding and student services to share their voices and strengthen their communities.

Today, we would like to reintroduce ourselves as Native Forward Scholars Fund. While there is no perfect single name to describe all members of our communities, “Native” speaks clearly to our collective history and cultures. “Forward” directly speaks towards the empowerment of our scholars’ success to create and enact positive change.

We are grateful for 50 years in community with you and look forward to the next 50 – join us at: nativeforward.org!


The Importance of STEM Initiatives to Indigenous American Communities

Every child should have the freedom to dream big. At the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), it’s been our mission to encourage Indigenous children to not only dream big in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), but to make those dreams a reality.

The current, and increasing, underrepresentation of Indigenous people in STEM is cause for national concern because it deprives our nation of the potential for innovation and transformative solutions arising from a diverse STEM workforce (Corbett & Hill, 2015; National Academies, 2011). Further, research suggests diverse voices, such as those of Indigenous learners and professionals, contribute to creative and critical STEM enterprise of problem solving (Page, 2007; Spencer & Dawes, 2009). Equally, it is morally imperative to support all individuals, including Indigenous men and women, and Indigenous two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ individuals, who wish to pursue STEM education and careers.

Too many bright and talented Indigenous students at all levels encounter challenges academically for a multitude of reasons. Working with its partners, AISES creates brighter futures for them by ensuring equal access to STEM educational programming, closing gender and learning gaps, placing a premium on diversity, and improving access to essential support services and resources. And while encouraging Indigenous students to pursue STEM studies because today’s fastest growing, most in-demand jobs are in STEM fields, the skills and principles acquired through STEM education are equally important for those looking to create and manage businesses of their own someday.

For over 40 years, AISES has been committed to substantially increasing the number of Indigenous people in STEM studies and careers. AISES’ three key focus areas are student success, career support, and workforce development. In the advancement of our mission, AISES works with exceptional Indigenous students who all too often face educational and economic inequalities. As such, AISES offers programming and resources to encourage, guide, and fund Indigenous students on their pathway into a STEM field. Upon completion of their STEM degree or certification, AISES continues to provide supportive programming and resources as well as access to the nation’s largest network of individuals and institutions dedicated to supporting the ongoing career development and advancement of Indigenous people in STEM fields.

In 2017, AISES launched a STEM and Business initiative to expand opportunities and provide resources for AISES members who want to combine their interest in STEM with starting or expanding a business within their own tribal communities. Since then, AISES has engaged hundreds of students and professionals by delivering sessions at its annual conference, creating a cohort of individuals for entrepreneurship training and mentorship, and providing start-up capital to program participants. To support this work, AISES partners with allies who are also committed to providing resources to help grow and expand the numbers of Indigenous STEM students and professionals. One such collaboration is with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

With support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES STEM and Business program is delivering an entrepreneurship training initiative to (1) expand access to the AISES STEM and Business curriculum via AISES microsite along with outreach and promotion of these resources to the entire AISES network; (2) create a 10-person STEM and Business cohort and recruitment of 5 professional mentors; (3) conduct a three-part series of STEM and Business trainings, two in-person trainings hosted in conjunction with AISES events and one virtual training; and (4) award mini-grants to support Indigenous STEM Business development.

Thanks to partners like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, AISES has enabled many Indigenous people to develop businesses. It’s helped grow tribal enterprises, and supported tribal communities as they strive toward economic independence and the assertion of tribal sovereignty. Now more than ever, it is essential for AISES to further expand our partnerships to create more opportunities for Indigenous youth and young professionals seeking careers in STEM fields. It is time to make Indigenous STEM representation a priority as a critical component of the larger global effort to develop the most innovative solutions to today’s most pressing problems and issues. Together, AISES and its partners are creating those opportunities – and I hope you too will join us.


Sarah Echohawk is a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, and is CEO of AISES.