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Native American students don't get free ride at UND

At Merrifield Hall on the UND campus -- this place for learning -- two posters fluttered boldly on the wall. They were hung there a week ago by someone who naively threatened that free schooling and funding for Native Americans at UND would be stopped if the "Fighting Sioux" name is changed.

School officials soon took the posters down. And when a copy of these mean-spirited posters reached my desk, I was going to file them in my "Yeah, right" folder. But after talking with several administrators at UND, they thought it would be worth a public explanation. Because contrary to the posters' claims, Native Americans do not receive free schooling or funding at UND, or any other college or university.

(For my friends in the administration who were kind enough to provide me with answers about financial aid -- thanks.)

Here is a summary of what they said: Of the 11,031 students who attend UND, 70 percent to 80 percent get some form of financial aid. All students who want to have access to the broadest possible sources of funding, fill out and submit a "Free Application for Federal Student Aid." The information then is used by many different organizations to award funds.

The response from the "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" then is used to determine Pell and other grants, some scholarships, employment and loan funds for students. The determination is without reference to race.

Bruce Helgerud, administrator of student financial aid, said Native students "have a little more access to resources than other students." They have more alternatives, in other words. For example, the tribe might replace the student loan or work-study amount with grants. If the tribal funds replace the work-study amount for a Native student, that releases those funds for use by other students.

There are also other alternative sources of funding available to other groups of students. Here are some examples: vocational rehabilitation, veterans benefits and benefits from the National Guard. Farming families also get a break in determining their eligibility for financial aid, he said.

UND has some scholarships from the UND Foundation that are based on academic achievement. Less than 2 percent of those scholarships for 2000-2001 academic year were awarded to Native Americans.

In addition to those funds, Native American students are among those eligible for tuition waivers. The Cultural Diversity Tuition Waiver is intended to improve diversity at the university. But it is important to note this waiver is for economically disadvantaged students of any race, not just Native Americans. Furthermore, the funds are limited, and only one in five Native students benefit.

That said, it seems to me the posters were symptomatic of problems in the community.

I read the notes on the two posters to a Dakota spiritual man. He isn't usually surprised by much, but these poster caused him to draw a deep breath. It's a form of racism that he hasn't seen in many years, he said.

But he warned me not to include all people in this category. He recalled a skirmish in Wisconsin several years ago over the fishing issue. The Native people there found much of the same mean-spiritedness, but the attacks were spearheaded by one or only a few people, he said.

His experiences at UND have been good. So, perhaps, he said, that is what is happening here -- it is only a few. Look again at the community, he said. Most aren't poster-tacking radicals.

True, I told him. When I look into the face of the community, I don't see racism. Disagreement, yes. Some friends of mine have told me that they like the name and still don't understand how it doesn't honor the tribes. That's OK. We can talk. Their comments are straightforward. That opens the doors for discussion, debate and understanding, and that's good.

There are people on campus and in the community, including myself, who are concerned about the growing antagonism over the "Fighting Sioux" issue that seems to fuel racial incidents such as the posters.

A UND student who I met Sunday had some good ideas. He said he was pro "Fighting Sioux" until he learned more about the issue. He suggested some sit-down discussions between and among the students. Students, he said, sometimes don't take the time to examine these issue because they are too busy with classes.

Good idea. We need to begin building a friendlier community.

Yellow Bird's e-mail address is dyellowbird@gfherald.com or she can be reached at (701) 780-1228. She writes columns on Tuesday and Saturday.

Source: Grand Forks Herald Saturday, March 17, 2001