|  2020 E-NEWSLETTER  |  VOLUME 20, ISSUE 2  |

Circle of Hope


By the time this finds its way to you, I’m hoping and praying we all will be on the other side of the COVID pandemic. But right now, while I am writing, we are still working from home, businesses are closed and, because reservation communities are mostly far away from urban areas, Indian Country hasn’t yet reached the peak of COVID impact. Already, the Navajo Nation has the third highest death rate per capita in the country, and many reservation communities are still trying to prepare for the onslaught of medical needs as COVID is being diagnosed.

Like many people, this has been a time of stress and anxiety for me, as I worry about my family, both near and far, and for all Native peoples. History would tell us that we will lose more people per capita than any other group, and I am saddened to think of what that means – losing the holders of our history, language, cultural teachings and stories of our past resilience and strength in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

But more than fear and sadness, what I feel most is a deep swell of love and pride as I see all Native communities responding to this crisis. We are doing what our ancestors have always done – we are rising to this crisis with generosity, determination, innovation, and courage. History would also tell us we will not be defeated, and I see that in action everywhere I look.

Prior to the COVID crisis, we worked with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice to survey tribal college and university (TCU) students about access to basic needs. What we learned was shocking – that at that time 81% of students were food and/or housing insecure. And yet 82% of those very students are also A and B students. This is equally shocking, as we know the impact the stress of hunger and homelessness has on students and their ability to learn. Reminding us, yet again, we will not be defeated.

My pride in the TCU leadership, faculty, staff and students has always been present (after all, I am a former Tribal College President), but never more so than now, as I see everyone come together to move to creating, teaching and attending online courses. Many of the TCUs are in the middle of the digital divide, where faculty, students and households simply do not have the equipment or connection to access the internet and attend classes – but that does not stop us. We are resilient.

We’ve been checking in with students on a regular basis to see how they are doing – what they’ve shared with us is that the additional stress from COVID has doubled the number of students who think they are likely to drop out of school. We simply will not let this happen. The future of Native communities depends on students staying in school and graduating.  Currently, 44% of College Fund scholars are in education, healthcare, and STEM degree programs. These are the people who will help us become stronger, healthier communities so the next time we are in crisis we will be better prepared and less vulnerable to death and economic destruction. Our battles are hard fought and hard won, and we simply cannot afford to lose ground right now.

When COVID is all said and done and things are back to a new normal, we will also have been reminded that we have many friends and relatives. People like you, who remembered us during the hard times and recognized our determination and strength, but also our need. Our list of thanks will be long – and will include you.

Stay safe and healthy, and always be strong with us.

Pilamayayapi (thank you) for your support and friendship,

Cheryl Crazy Bull
President & CEO, American Indian College Fund


Earlier this year, the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice released a survey of tribal college and university (TCU) students around basic needs. The survey shows that despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Native students are staying in school and excelling.

Here are the sobering statistics – 81% of TCU students are food and/or housing insecure. And I’m sure we’ve all read the studies demonstrating that students of any age who are hungry or experiencing disruption in their home lives are far more likely to fail in school. But here’s the amazing news – despite experiencing food and housing insecurity, a staggering 82% of the students surveyed are receiving As and Bs in school. 

These statistics beg the question, what is the motivation and how are Native students overcoming some pretty untenable challenges when others are not?

Part of it has to do with the unique qualities TCUs possess. The survey states that “These institutions provide a culturally responsive education to students who are often marginalized in higher education. They are geographically and culturally diverse while also sharing common goals, such as integrating cultural values and connection to land into curriculum while emphasizing community outreach and education that is rooted in tribal identity and practice.

Another reason students are succeeding is their fierce determination and unwavering commitment to building stronger, healthier, economically stable communities. And the knowledge that the only way to ensure hunger and homelessness aren’t forever is through education.

And finally, they are motivated because of you and your support. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 1 in 10 of our scholars thought they might drop out of college. One in ten – that’s a 90% retention rate! 

Unfortunately, the stress COVID-19 has placed on reservation communities has resulted in increased stress on TCU students,1 in 5 of whom now say they are at risk of dropping out of college. The only way to keep them in school is to reduce the stress they are experiencing by providing additional scholarship support to cover those basic needs like food, electricity, water, and internet so they can attend online classes. If we support them, they will continue to excel.

Circumstances should never dictate outcomes, especially when it comes to Native students and higher education. The question posed in the headline of this article – What motivates Native students to stay in school? – has a very simple answer. You do.



“I did not think I would enter higher education because it seemed out of reach … but my educational and professional advancement is distinct because the American Indian College Fund invested in me each step of the way.”

Joaquin knows what it’s like to go without basic necessities, including not knowing where your next meal is coming from. As a matter of fact, that’s how he ended up in college.

Joaquin and his family were facing homelessness when he attended a college recruitment fair – and because dinner was included, he went and took his family with him so they would all be able to eat a meal. At the time, he had no plan to enter higher education.

The college fair did more than just provide a meal to Joaquin, and he was inspired to work harder. His belief in the power of education had always been strong, he simply didn’t have a path forward. He was also acutely aware of the priorities in his community he wanted to advance, like access to water, broadband and electricity – and he always knew his voice would be amplified with a college degree. Joaquin went on to serve two U.S. Senators and support the White House to help shape Indian policy.

Just last spring, Joaquin graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. He is now a legislative staff attorney for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and this fall he will clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He is a tireless voice for strengthening tribal sovereignty, finding ways to create positive change for Native Peoples everywhere.



“Going back to school and receiving scholarships literally changed my life.”

My life completely changed when I began attending a tribal college and connected with the American Indian College Fund. I was working three low-paying jobs but was still functionally homeless, sleeping on the floors of my friends and family. I was trying to make enough money to live while paying off student loans from my first try at college. I originally chose a state university and felt like a fish out of water. I ended up not doing well and dropping out.

Then I found the College of Menominee Nation and applied for scholarships from the American Indian College Fund. Going back to school and receiving scholarships literally changed my life. Not only do I now have an opportunity to complete my education, I have stability and a single job that pays enough for me to have a safe place to live and to support myself.

I start my senior year this fall, working toward my degree in Public Administration. I’m already preparing for graduate school, submitting research and getting published. The COVID crisis has created some tough challenges for me, my college, and my community, but we’ve really pulled together to take care of each other, stay healthy and most importantly, stay in school.

I will never forget what it felt like when I didn’t have a home, but now I look forward to the future and all it holds for me with hope, optimism and excitement.


As we focus on providing Native students with scholarships to help them meet their basic needs and overcome food insecurity, we are mindful of the connection that Native people have always had to food, and the role it has played in helping to define Native culture.

Discovering the ingredients and traditions behind some very unique indigenous dishes has been the inspiration behind the Epicurean Award to Support Scholars (EATSS), a popular foodie-inspired top chef showcase.

Over the past two years, the American Indian College Fund has hosted three EATSS events around the country. Attendees learn about and sample Native cuisine, and meet some of the country’s best Native chefs who use ingredients traditional to their tribal heritage. They get to meet some amazing College Fund scholars as well!

Plus, guests experience Native American heritage beautifully expressed through music, art and dance. It’s a truly experiential event that supports some genuinely extraordinary students.

Join us for an upcoming EATSS event to learn more from our culinary students about how they are working to preserve traditional Native cuisine AND sample a few student-prepared traditional dishes.For information about attending, contact Karissa Adame at kadame@collegefund.org or 303-426-8900.

You can also visit our website for more information: www.collegefund.org/nyceatss

Did you know?


This year’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice tribal college survey shows that a distressing number of American Indian students are not having their basic needs met. We learned that 62% were food insecure – not knowing where their next meal was coming from – and 69% were housing insecure, not knowing where they would be living from day to day.

Scholarships from the American Indian College Fund can help immeasurably in that regard.

Native students should not be worried about the next time they’ll eat, or where they’ll be living – they should be focused on
completing their educations and making better lives for themselves. Please support our scholarships and our students!