Students flourish in programs that boost tribal communities

With grants from the U.S. government, Native American students are training for high-paying jobs of the future, from solar energy to welding to innovative agricultural practices.

Kyle Kootswatewa, 28, a research assistant at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of them. The institute is one of 34 tribal colleges and universities across the U.S. that receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support apprenticeships and certificate programs.

The institute integrates American Indian tradition into every curriculum. “I was surprised and happy to find cultural sensitivity an important aspect during project planning,” Kootswatewa said.

Students sitting at tables in library (Lance Cheung/USDA
This library at the College of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma was built with government help. (Lance Cheung/USDA)

About 20,000 students are enrolled in U.S. tribal colleges and universities. They hold a unique place in higher education with their emphasis on Native American history, knowledge and traditions.

At Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana, for example, an “ethnobotany” course teaches students the historical and contemporary uses of native plants by the indigenous Northern Cheyenne people. The college also offers a welding apprenticeship, paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that helps graduates find jobs in the region that are triple the average salary of jobs on their Northern Cheyenne reservation.

Tribal colleges have the same status as land-grant universities in the U.S., meaning they can access federal resources to pay for certain programs.

Science on tribal lands

Another program, from the U.S. Department of Energy, allows Native American college students to intern and train alongside energy experts in the field and at the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories.

The Energy Department also reaches out to younger students, promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics in tribal communities, such as occurred on Ute Mountain Youth Energy Day in Colorado in 2016.

President Trump proclaimed November 25 as Native American Heritage Day and called on all Americans to “learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people.”

“Native Americans have influenced every stage of America’s development,” President Trump said in a proclamation. “The United States is stronger when Indian Country is healthy and prosperous,” the president said.