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146 c h a p t e r 1 0 The Intersection of Paying for College and Tribal Sovereignty exploring native college student experiences with tribal financial aid Christine A. Nelson (Laguna/Navajo) Amongst my Native American1 peers, I was classified as a high achieving student in school. I attended pre-­college access programs, had supportive parents, and received fairly good grades. College was always the next step for me, but why at the age of 20 was I attending my third college? And why was my tribal scholarship, which was my largest financial aid award, being denied? I can recall feeling overwhelmed with financial uncertainty. The individuals who worked their 9 to 5 jobs and came home to what appeared to be little worry became increasingly appealing and ideal for my future. I soon found myself erasing all the years of being indoctrinated with college-­ going messages and ending the childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. Sixteen years later as a newly minted PhD, I can still recall the range of emotions I experienced during that time and often reflect upon the subsequent decisions I made when I lost my tribal scholarship. This loss of financial aid not only limited my access to college, it challenged how I perceived the benefits of college and most interestingly, it sent me on a long journey of defining what it meant to be an enrolled member of my tribal nation. (Christine, personal communication, October 20, 2015) In my student affairs professional experience, I have witnessed many Native students confronted with various tribal financial aid conundrums. I cannot help but feel connected to them, as the personal narrative above explains—­ I know how it feels. As a higher education researcher, I assert that the current literature fails to fully explore the complexities of financial aid for Native students. Paying for College and Tribal Sovereignty 147 Financing or paying for higher education has been shown time and time again to be a challenge for Native students by limiting access to and persistence in higher education (Guillory & Wolverton, 2008; Swanson & Tokar, 1991). In 2010, approximately 85% of Native college students received some form of financial aid, with an average amount of aid being $10,900. This aid amount includes all grants, both need-­and merit-­ based, from federal, state, and private entities, federal and state loans, and federal work-­ study (Aud, Fox, & KewalRamani, 2010). The amount of students receiving aid is promising and indicates Native college students are seeking various funding options to finance their education. However , the average amount of aid a Native college student received was $1,800 less than the overall average of other racial/ethnic groups (Aud et al., 2010). Juxtaposing the lower amount of aid received with the high recipient percentage complicates how we understand financial aid and provides an opportunity to explore the meaning of financial aid, particularly tribal financial aid, in a Native student’s college experience. The following question guided this inquiry: “How do Native college students describe the role of tribal financial aid throughout their college-­ going process?” In this chapter, I posit that financial aid for Native students is unlike any other ethnic group by exploring the role of tribal financial aid through a Native Nation-­ Building lens. This Indigenous perspective on funding transcends the norm of researching financial aid merely as a lack of funding issue that impacts college access. Native Nation-­ Building asserts an opportunity to provide a more complete picture on the intersection of tribal sovereignty and college-­going experiences. This chapter concludes by presenting the lived experiences of the students and implications on policy, practice, and future inquiries. Financial Aid for Native Students There currently exists a plethora of mainstream research showing the multifaceted impacts of financial aid, such as influence on college choice, student price perception, and retention (DesJardins & McCall, 2010; Perna, 2008, 2010). However , most mainstream research is irrelevant to the context of Native students due to statistical insignificance or complete exclusion. More notable to this discussion is how there are very few studies specifically focusing on the nexus between financial aid and Native students. The limited studies that do include Native students demonstrate that the lack of financial aid is a barrier to accessing and persisting in college (Carney, 1999; Guillory & Wolverton, 2008; Mendez, Mendoza, & Malcolm, 2011), but there continues to be a lack of understanding of why and how financial aid operates in the lives of students to influence their college-­ going decisions and behaviors. In this inquiry...


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