After the University of California said it would waive tuition and student service fees for state residents who are members of federally recognized tribes, the announcement was met with mixed feelings.
The initiative, which came as part of UC’s Native American Opportunity Plan, was meant to address the underrepresentation of Native students in higher education. With 109 federally recognized tribes in the state, the funding will be beneficial to many, according to the Guardian.
That includes the Yurok Tribe in northeast California, which has an average income of about $11,000. Council member Phillip Williams said the waived tuition could remove a barrier to higher education for the 6,400 tribal members.
“I think this has brought so much hope to our youth; hope to our families,” Williams said. “We have a lot of talented young people here. We have an untapped resource of intelligence and ambition. And hopefully this can cultivate that.”
Colorado River Indian Tribes chair Amelia Flores felt similarly, noting the program could relieve expenses from the tribe.
But while some Native people viewed it as a potentially life changing initiative, others from tribes that aren’t federally recognized were disappointed.
“Just like the other Native people who are enrolled, we suffer all the historical trauma and the legacy of the shortcomings and the crimes committed against our people,” said Jayden Lim, a 20-year-old Stanford University student and a descendant of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation. “Except the main difference is we don’t get all the benefits of being tribal people.”
Louise Ramirez, chair of the Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation, said her nation has been fighting for federal recognition for years, calling UC’s decision “discrimination.” She told the Guardian that it’s “causing additional trauma to be carried forward on future generations.”
Stett Holbrook, a spokesperson for the UC president’s office, said the decision to limit the initiative to members of federally recognized tribes comes from Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action based on race at California public universities.
“UC can provide financial aid to students based on their membership in federally recognized tribes because such membership is legally deemed a political classification, rather than a racial classification, due to the sovereign-to-sovereign relationship that the law recognizes between the federal government and federally recognized tribes,” Holbrook said.
UC president Michael Drake said state residents from non-federally recognized tribes could receive scholarships from external organizations. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria recently announced a $2.5 million scholarship fund for UC students from non-federally and federally recognized tribes.