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University of California waives tuition fees for local students – but not for all Native Americans

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L.last week the University California announced that the higher education system would waive tuition fees and student services for residents of California who are members of federally recognized tribes.

The announcement delighted some California natives who saw it as a life-changing initiative. But it has drawn harsh criticism from many others who are members of nations that are not recognized at the federal level, and deeply disappointed that an institution that emphasizes acknowledging the historical grievances suffered by indigenous peoples can leave so many in the same breath people from such an important resource.

“Like other indigenous people who are enrolled, we suffer all the historical trauma and legacy of flaws and crimes committed against our people,” said Jaden Lim, a 20-year-old Stanford University student and descendant of Pinoleville Pomo Nation. “The main difference is that we don’t get all the benefits of being tribal people.”

The UC initiative emerged as part of the launch of an opportunity plan for Indians that aims to address the under-representation of indigenous students in higher education institutions, including the University of California. In the fall of 2021, of the nearly 300,000 students enrolled at the University of California, only 0.5% were indigenous, reports the UC website.

“I hope this new program will benefit our students and continue to position the University of California as an educational institution for Native American students,” wrote Michael Drake, president of the university system, in a letter announcing the initiative.

Given the 109 federally recognized tribes in California, it is clear that funding for the training will be beneficial to many Indigenous people. The initiative comes as University tuition is becoming more expensive, burdening many young Americans with student debts long after they begin their professional careers. For residents of the state study at the University of California it’s about $ 13,100, an amount that does not include many other college-related expenses, including housing and books.

For the Yurok tribe in northeastern California, the average income is about $ 11,000. According to council member Philip Williams, tuition fees could remove a significant barrier to higher education for 6,400 members of the tribe.

“I think it has brought so much hope to our youth; hope for our families, “he said.” We have a lot of talented young people here. We have an untapped resource of intelligence and ambition. And hopefully it can cultivate that. “

Colorado River Indian tribal leader Amelia Flores said she was pleased to hear the news, but added that her tribe already provides college training for members who apply and meet certain requirements, such as a GPA of 2.5. But she said the UC program could release some of those costs from the tribe, which in recent years has spent nearly $ 3 million annually on tuition assistance.

But for some of the thousands of Indigenous people across California who are not part of a federally recognized tribe, this ad was disappointing or even painful.

Lim, a student at Stanford University, can trace her ancestry back at least to 1850, when members of her family were killed in northern California by the U.S. military.

She has a certificate of Indian blood degree issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And when she was 15, she delivered a speech to Michelle Obama, then First Lady, to accept the award as a representative of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center of Tribal Youth Ambassadors.

“I come from a group of people who barely survived the colonization of California,” she told those present in 2016.

Lim hopes to enroll in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where an Indian research center is named after her grandfather. But because of “family hostility” in her tribe, she said, she is not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and therefore will not qualify for a training grant.

“It feels like everyone who is in this politically gray area is being thrown under the rug again,” she said.

For Lim it is a dispute in her tribe; for others, it is a tribal moratorium on enrollment, rejection due to domestic politics, or membership in one of dozens of nations that, despite years of struggle, are not recognized at the federal level.

The specific story of California’s natives – including three waves of genocide that scattered and destroyed communities, and land treaties that have never been ratified and hidden for decades, leaving most Indigenous people homeless – makes the restriction on funding for federally recognized members particularly striking. states, Joel said. Proudfit, director of the California Center for Indian Culture and Sovereignty and chair of the Department of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos.

“These different waves of colonization have virtually destroyed us,” she said. “This has led to all these dynamic, unfortunate problems, such as identity politics, and who enters and who does not.”

Proudfit, a descendant of the Pecheng Group of the Luisenyo Indians, explained that there are many ways to prove someone indigenous to California that goes beyond enrollment in a federally recognized tribe, including a certificate of Indian blood degree, California rolls and non-federation affiliation. recognized tribes.

State Holbrooke, a spokesman for the UC president’s office, said the university system’s decision to limit the initiative to members of federally recognized tribes stems from Proposition 209, which bans race-based positive action at California public universities.

“UC can provide financial assistance to students based on their affiliation with federally recognized tribes, because such membership is legally considered a political classification rather than a racial classification because of the sovereign relationship that the law recognizes between the federal government and federally recognized tribes,” Holbrooke said. in an email.

He added that the UC Presidential Advisory Council of UC, which includes tribal leaders, has responded to the plan.

Proudfit suggested the university pay attention to U.S. Code 1679, whose requirements for California natives to receive medical services include membership in a federally recognized tribe, as well as things like a descendant of “an Indian who lived in California on June 1, 1852” or have “trust interests.” in the public domain, national forests, or allotments in a reservation in California. ”

She said: “The federal government has recognized that it is on health lists, blood counts or Indian blood certificates – this is federal recognition. It shows your political status. “

Louise Ramirez, chairwoman of the Ohlone / Costanoan-Esselen nation, said her nation has been fighting for federal recognition for decades. She called UC’s decision “discrimination.”

She added: it “causes additional trauma that is passed on to future generations.”

In his letter, UC President Drake said that residents of non-federated California tribes can also receive scholarships from outside organizations.

On Wednesday, federal Indians Graton Rancheria announced the allocation of a $ 2.5 million scholarship fund for UC students from non-federal and federally recognized tribes.

In the U.S., several states, including Michigan and Minnesota, also have programs that offer assistance to members of federally recognized tribes who attend certain colleges. Others, however, award funding based on broader criteria. Montana’s university system, for example, offers a waiver of tuition fees for those studying in states or federally recognized countries or having at least “Indian blood of the fourth degree.”

On Monday, Lim sent a letter to the university detailing her family’s history with the school. Her grandfather was a teacher there for almost 30 years, and her mother is now a teacher:

“My family has worked very hard to increase access for California Indians, and this policy will not currently lead to such an outcome,” she wrote.

She added: “I hope you can quickly revise this policy to rightfully serve and raise the descendants of all California Indians.”

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