Access to higher education is a tool for Native community empowerment despite historical trauma
On Tuesday, July 28th, MacKenzie Scott, formerly Bezos, announced that she has given away $1.7 Billion of her wealth to 116 organizations across the United States. One of the organizations that received funding was the American Indian Graduate Center located in Albuquerque, NM, the nation’s leading provider of scholarships to Native American students. Upon announcing her charitable giving, which results from her commitment to The Giving Pledge, Scott stated that she had “a conviction that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions.”
The $20 Million gift is the largest sum of unrestricted funding contributed by an individual donor in the American Indian Graduate Center’s 50 year history. Because it is unrestricted, the American Indian Graduate Center will be able to fully direct its use toward envisioning new scholarship programs, hiring student support staff, and implementing a mentoring program that prepares students for the college to career transition. Unrestricted funding is incredibly valuable to organizations like the American Indian Graduate Center: it allows them to be more responsive, more agile, more independent, and more forward-thinking. The executive director, Angelique Albert, states, “Ms. Scott’s giving honors the expertise that our organization has developed both through working closest to the issue of access to higher education and the personal, lived experiences of our team who reflect the demographics and backgrounds of the populations we serve.”
The historic relationship between Native Americans and educational systems in the United States is traumatic and oppressive- the first interactions many Native societies had with Western education was through the forced placement of Native children into residential boarding schools that operated under the directive, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”. The last of the schools in this violent system was closed as recently as 1973. Still, Albert points out that the resilience of Native culture has allowed Native people to survive that trauma and understand the importance of education in today’s world, knowing that it is a vital key to individual success and tool for community empowerment. “We’re not just providing scholarships, we’re breaking cycles of oppression with the power of education. I’m proud to lead an organization that is built to create the next generation of Native American leaders. By empowering our students with everything they need to succeed in higher-education, we hope to provide better opportunities for generations to come,” says Albert.
Over the past 50 years, the American Indian Graduate Center has empowered 16,000 students from over 500 tribes in all 50 states by providing scholarships with amounts ranging from $250 to $30,000 annually, as well as offering individualized support through academic advisors that work to connect students with their campus resources and other services. In 1969 there were only 38 Native lawyers, 15 Native doctoral students, and 30 Native medical doctors. As of 2019, the American Indian Graduate Center has contributed to over 2,000 law degrees, 1,700 postgraduate degrees, and 450 medical degrees for Native students.
This track record of success has positioned the American Indian Graduate Center to be able to identify best practices in supporting Native students as well as the barriers to higher education that still exist. With funding like that given by MacKenzie Scott, the American Indian Graduate Center can continue its established work providing scholarships to students, innovate new ways to dismantle persistent educational barriers, and transform the relationship between Native Americans and the American educational system.
About American Indian Graduate Center- American Indian Graduate Center is a national private 501(c)(3) non-profit providing scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduate, graduate and professional students throughout the United States. American Indian Graduate Center and American Indian Graduate Center Scholars are the largest scholarship providers to Native students in the United States. They award on average $15 million in scholarships annually and have awarded more than $350 million in scholarships since inception. They are proud to empower Native students from over 500 Tribes in all 50 states with educational funding and academic support services.