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Native American Alumni Board working to award first-ever scholarship

| Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Native American Alumni Board is looking to award its first-ever scholarship in 2020 thanks to generous donations from alumni and others in the Notre Dame community.

The scholarship fund is one of a few initiatives the board and the University have undertaken in order to foster a more inclusive environment for Native students and show reverence for Native culture.

Theresa Tulsiak | The Observer

The scholarship fund has raised $7,964.79, which is very close to the $10,000 needed to sustain the scholarship, said Anthony Holt, chair of the alumni board and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“These specific scholarship funds require $10,000 of deposited money before the scholarship can be awarded — that can come through any number of donations,” Holt said. “The University puts the money into investment funds [so] as it comes in it’s gaining money.”

Holt said the market value of the $7,964 is actually much higher, amounting to around $11,000.

The Native American Alumni Board started working with the Office of Financial Aid in 2011. In 2012, the board officially learned the scholarship had been approved and that it could start taking donations in October 2012.

“We already had a number of Native American alumni and others who had basically donated money,” he said.

Charitable days of donation at the University, such as Notre Dame Day, also help to fundraise for the scholarship.

“ND Day has been really helpful for us year after year,” Holt said. “It’s a great day of fundraising for us that we hope will maintain attention towards our alumni board and the work that’s been done.”

Holt said the undergraduate work of architecture students in Navajo Nation has greatly impacted the amount of donations the scholarship has received. The projects gained even more visibility through the What Would You Fight For series, which aims to showcase the work and impact of community members.

Deswood Etsitty, director of alumni relations for the board, was essential in realizing the partnership, which gave Notre Dame architecture students real-world experience while helping a school fund a new gymnasium.

The Native American Alumni Board is overseen by the Notre Dame Alumni Diversity Council. The board began around 2005 and Holt said it is the youngest and smallest of the multicultural alumni boards.

The board has been working closely with the Office of Financial Aid to ensure the scholarship will be sustainable in the future and will be awarded to students with the most need.

“The financial aid office wants to ensure that the market value stays over $10,000 for the first couple of years until it can gain more market value,” Holt said. “Initially, the scholarships awarded will be small, in the $500 range, but this can help take care of books and smaller essential things. The office has a pool of applicable candidates, typically students who have financial need and are Native students.”

Holt feels the scholarship is a way to acknowledge both the history of the Pokagon Potawatomi in the area and the Native students who attend the University.

“We are on the Pokagon Potawatomi’s traditional land and it’s important to maintain the acknowledgement of that history,” he said. “This scholarship is an acknowledgement there are still Native students coming to Notre Dame and there are things the board and the University are doing to encourage students to come to Notre Dame. We do have Natives here in the student population and the alumni population and we do care about this community.”

But cultural specialist and Pokagon tribe activist Jefferson Ballew IV said he feels the University is still doing little for the Pokagon Potawatomi. He spoke of the early days of the University, and the transference of land between Peter Pokagon, Leopold Pokagon’s grandson, and Fr. Stephen Badin.

“Peter gave it all to Fr. Badin so [the Pokagons] wouldn’t have been forcibly removed from their homeland,” Ballew IV said.

Ballew IV said the University offered the Pokagon Potawatomi food, clothing and education in exchange for the land, but Notre Dame was “supposed to be doing that work anyway.”

“That kind of charitable work is nothing extraordinary,” he said. “Those are things that the Catholic Church already does — where is the above and beyond? The sacrifice? The atonement? None of that was given to us.”

Holt believes there are many at Notre Dame who are working to make the University “a positive place for students.”

“Folks out there within the Notre Dame community are improving relationships with the Native American community and [University President] Fr. [John] Jenkins has been a huge part of furthering this positive momentum and fostering necessary conversations,” Holt said.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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