The University of Oregon will cover tuition and fees for Indigenous students from any tribe in the state.



CNN

The University of Oregon celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day by announcing a new program that will cover tuition and fees for indigenous tribes living in Oregon.

The Home Flight Scholars Program launched Monday and will immediately provide financial aid to 150 to 175 self-identified American Indian/Alaska Native students on campus.

“The Home Flight Scholars Program addresses the unique challenges these students face and prepares them to graduate with an education and experience that empowers them to return home and make a positive impact on their communities and families,” said Patrick, the school’s interim president. Phillips in a news release.

The goal of the program, according to the university, is to address the three biggest problems faced by indigenous students: financial problems, academic difficulties and the struggle to connect with their culture.

“With Home Flight, we can provide academic and social guidance that will enhance tribal educational values,” university vice president Jason Younker said in a statement. “We hope that each graduate will return to their home reserves and become future stewards and leaders in their communities.”

Younker, who joined the university as the government’s first formal liaison with Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, is a member of the Coquille Indian Tribe and leads efforts to develop and develop the Home Flights program.

“Most of us grew up wondering if we could afford college or whether we could go to college or stay home,” Younker explained. “But each of us had ancestors who sacrificed and survived so that we could have the choices we do today. We have to choose where to go to university, not where we can go to university.’

The program was created in consultation with the university’s Native American Advisory Council and is made possible by federal, state and institutional grants, according to the university.

Along with the grant, the initiative also created a new American Indian/Alaska Native academic advisor position and will provide services ranging from tutoring and advising to tribal jobs and future graduate study opportunities.

Students can apply to the Home Flight Scholars program starting October 17th.

The state university system also implements its financial support program (Oregon Tribal Student Grant) which covers tuition, housing, books and other educational actors for indigenous students enrolled in one of Oregon’s nine federal tribes.

What makes the Home Flight Scholars program unique is that it will cover tuition and fees for students enrolled in 574 federally recognized tribes across the US, while living in Oregon.

“It’s a big deal,” Megan Lynn Van Pelt, a 22-year-old student and co-director of the university’s Native American Student Union, told CNN. “It means being a normal student for once. Overall I am very happy. We shouldn’t worry about fees, we should worry about homework and finals.’

Van Pelt, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, is a recipient of the Oregon Tribal Student Grant. Although he won’t need a Home Flight grant, Van Pelt says he knows a lot of people.

“This should be implemented everywhere,” he said. “Even in my community college experiences, students were struggling to make ends meet. Not only will this benefit first-generation students, but think how many non-traditional students will return to school because of the UO Flight program.”

Like Van Pelt, many Native American students at the University of Oregon come from rural, low-income areas and typically rely on federal and tribal grants to keep them in school, according to Kirby Brown, the school’s director of Native American and Indigenous Studies.

The goal of the Home Flight program, he says, is to take the burden off so students can focus on their studies and futures without worrying that money will be the reason they don’t cross the finish line.

And the initiative means much more than financial aid to Brown, a tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation. It is a symbol of justice.

“Tribes who were removed from their homelands by the federal government or the military had treaty negotiations where they specifically requested and demanded educational resources for their children and grandchildren,” he explained.

“For an Oregon university to finally implement this program more than 170 years after the state became a territory is tremendous, to be historically accountable to those treaties and to offer what these students’ ancestors sacrificed and fought for with their lives and land.”

Now, his hope is that other universities across the US will follow suit and ensure that Indigenous students are unable to attend college due to financial hardship.

“Our philosophy is that every US university campus, public or private, is on Indian soil. We fully expect every university to follow our lead,” Brown said. “We feel that every university has a responsibility to indigenous students, built on land forcibly taken from their tribes and used for the benefit of universities, counties and states that relied on indigenous resources.”