‘Long overdue’: UC to waive tuition for Native American students

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Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff
The decision is financially supported by a $2.5 million donation from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Scholarship Fund, and will only benefit students from federally recognized tribes.

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California Native American students from both federally and non-federally recognized tribes will have their university tuition and fees waived for the 2022-2023 academic year. 

As part of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan — a larger initiative to make the university more accessible to in-state students from various backgrounds — the university will waive tuition for students from federally recognized tribes. 

Meanwhile, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Scholarship Fund has donated $2.5 million to fund the education of those from non-federally recognized tribes. 

“California Native American students now have a clear path to the nation’s top public education system with no financial roadblocks,” said Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, or FIGR, Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris in a press release. “In the spirit of our ancestors we are driven to take care of our environment and our people.”

As of 2019, American Indian and Alaska Native students made up about .52% of the UC’s student body and .4% of campus undergraduates. 

The UC hoped to further extend the program but was unable to as a result of the anti-affirmative action ballot measure Proposition 209, according to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, spokesperson Stett Holbrook. 

Wednesday, the FIGR stepped in with their donation to ensure all California Native American students — regardless of thier tribe’s status — would be able to attend the UC for free. 

“Inclusivity is our responsibility and we’re pleased to extend scholarships to California Native Americans from non-federally recognized tribes,” Sarris said in the release. “We’re helping to level the playing field and provide representation in higher education for all California Native American students.” 

The distinction between federally and not federally recognized tribes was born out of settler colonialism and is intended to “create hierarchy and uphold western notions of Indigenous authenticity,” according to campus Native American Student Development director Phenocia Bauerle.   

In a letter released April 22 to university chancellors, UC President Michael Drake said the university would release more information about other scholarships in the future. 

“The University of California is committed to recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans,” Drake said in the letter. “I am proud of the efforts the University has made to support the Native American community.” 

To further the wellbeing of the campus Indigenous community, Bauerle also stressed the importance of cultivating tribal partnerships and requiring students to study California Indian history, among other efforts. 

Still, she remained excited about the university’s announcement and the initiative taken by Indigenous communities to make the waivers available. 

“It is something that is long overdue,” Bauerle said in an email. “Given that the UC system was established through the Morrill Act, which sold land mostly acquired through theft of Native land, there is a responsibility to be attentive to the access that Native American/Alaska Native students have to one of the most prestigious public university systems in the country.” 

Mallika Seshadri is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the $2.5 million donation from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Scholarship Fund supported the UC Native American Opportunity Plan. In fact, it is a separate fund that will allow students from non-federally recognized tribes to attend schools in the UC system without paying tuition.