How can I get an Indian scholarship?

Written by Dr. Dean Chavers
Condensed by Native Village

     Dr. Dean Chavers is the Director of Catching the Dream,  formerly known as the Native American Scholarship Fund. He received a B.A. from UC Berkeley and two M.A. degrees from Stanford where he also earned his and Ph.D.
     Dr. Chavers has written over 20 books, including The National Indian Grant Directory, How to Write Winning Proposals, and Exemplary Programs in Indian Education. He is the former President of Bacone College.
     As Director of Catching the Dream, Dr. Chavers has helped 637 Native American students finish college. He's initiated the Exemplary Programs in Indian Education (EPIE) Movement implemented in dozens of Indian schools.

Do I need an Indian scholarship to go to college?

No, you donít. Fastweb has 1,500,000 entries in its database; fewer than 100 are Indian scholarships. Only 7 have real money; the rest have scholarship amounts that total less than $20,000 per year.

Some Indian scholarships only give 2 awards a year. That is highly competitive. So you donít need an Indian scholarship. Most students will only be eligible for 2-3 of the Indian scholarships. You need to win many more than that to pay for college.

Most Indian students who go on Fastweb do it wrong. They will use 3-5 keywords, such as American Indian, Native American, education, and minority. But they overlook many other words such as woman, female, special education, elementary education, FBLA, National Honor Society, FFA, and Spanish Club. At least 95% of students we hear from have not done a comprehensive search. The least number of scholarships students can find these days is 40, and that is as easy as falling off a log.

Counselors should help students with this process, but many still have the attitude that Indian students can't make it in college. Therefore the school doesn't encourage them to attend.  In fact, they tell them not to.

Harvard and Stanford will cost $45,000 a year. But if you do it right, you can pay for it with scholarships. Our motto is: Go to Harvard Medical School, donít take out any loans, and give your momma money. We actually have people doing that. There is no limit to the number of scholarships a student can earn. Marianne (Angel) Ragins won 200 scholarships in 1991. She was a Black woman who wanted to go to medical school. She started looking for scholarships in the 7th grade.

Marianne is now world famous and has written 3 books on how to find and win scholarships. Your high school library should have them; if it doesnít, ask the librarian to order them.

Isaiah Rodriquez (Laguna) has applied for the most scholarships in the 24-year history of Catching the Dream. He found 102 and won most of them.   He was the top student at SIPI (
Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute) and  president of the student government. Before that, Isaiah had dropped out of high school dropout and spent 7 years as a fry cook. When he realized that cooking eggs was not his dream, he decided to do something.

How can I get an Indian scholarship?

There is a myth about a pot of Indian gold called ďscholarships,Ē but this myth is not true.I have been fighting it for 40 years. People do not want to believe it, even after I tell them. Please believe me, folks:

Students should be looking for scholarships, not Indian scholarships. If you look for Indian things, you restrict yourself to 1% of the database while ignoring the other 99.99%. DO NOT DO THIS! Look for everything you can find to help pay for college.

How can I get a DNA test to prove Iím Indian so I can get an Indian scholarship?

No DNA test will prove what tribe you are. It can prove who your parents are but not if you are Choctaw, Chickasaw, Osage, etc., or what nationality of white, Black, or Hispanic.  Tribes do not accept DNA tracing to confirm heritage to grant citizenship.

Can I get a scholarship if Iím 1/64th Indian?

Not likely. Forget about trying to find an Indian scholarship. Start studying, get good grades, and then look for scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship if Iím one-ninth Indian?

Sorry, but the bottom number has to be even. There is no thing such as 1/9 Indian, or 1/7 Indian, or 1/5 Indian. Think about it. If your momma was full blood and your daddy was non-Indian, you will be half. Your kids, if you marry a non-Indian, will be one-quarter.

How can I prove Iím an Indian if my birth certificate says I am white?

Thatís a really hard one. You will probably have to accept being white. Perhaps your grandparents didn't want their kids identified as Indian, and put ďwhiteĒ on the birth certificate. But guess how those kids grew up? They were white.

Can I get my daughter enrolled in her tribe if her father/grandfather/grandmother was not enrolled?

That is hard, too. In the 1890s and early 1900, some Cherokee living up in the hills refused to enroll.  It is possible,  that some of their great-grandkids are half-bloods with no proof. You will need everyone's birth certificates and other records to take to the tribal enrollment office.

Can I get an Indian scholarship if I donít know what tribe I belong to?

You normally have to provide proof of tribe with your scholarship application. We require a CDIB to come directly from the tribe. If you donít know your tribe, itís will be really hard to enroll. You will, however, still be eligible for 40 or more scholarships. Too many people apply for Indian scholarships, and not enough for the others.  You do the math.

I am 15/64 Indian. Can I win an Indian scholarship?

For most scholarships, you have to be 1/4 blood Indian or more. The BIA definition is 25%, and most scholarships follow this criterion. If you are less than1/4 Indian blood, you might qualify for 1-2 Indian scholarships. But donít waste your time looking for them when you could be finding 100 other non-Indian scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship if my GPA is 2.5?

It's unlikely but possible. We've given at least one scholarship in the past 24 years to a student with a 2.6. But he offset the fairly low grades with a super essay, and he had already finished a semester of college. He was tough. He said that architects design HUD Indian houses that have no relevance to Indian people. Because of that, the people lose their pride while living in them. He wanted to design houses with Indian culture in mind so Indian people will like them. This student found 15 scholarships, applied to all, and won five. It was enough money for him to stay in college. His grades improved. He has had his architecture license for 16 years.

Can I apply for local scholarships even though Iím an Indian?

This is a gold mine. I met a young lady from Yankton, South Dakota who found 12 scholarships in that small reservation town. Another student from Chadron, Nebraska found 22 scholarships there. Elks, Moose, Eagles, Lions, Rotary, Toastmasters, AAUW, VFW, churches, womenís groups, menís groups, business groups, and others have scholarships. I hate it when someone tells me, ďWe never get an application from an Indian student. Have some of them to apply to us.Ē

I goofed around and didnít work hard in high school. Can I still earn a scholarship?

It depends on your grades.  If you are carrying a 3.0, you will need to offset it with an outstanding essay. We will help you. About 95% of the essays we get are not adequate. They mostly sin by omission -- leave things off that they should put in. I tell students they can go to a community college, especially a tribal college, work hard, get good grades, and I will help them get into Cornell. Most people do not believe me, but I guarantee it.

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