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Montgomery Hill (Tuscarora, Beaver Clan), assistant professor in the department of Indigenous studies, delivers the opening address in the Tuscarora language at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's regional conference. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Indigenous Studies)
Montgomery Hill (Tuscarora, Beaver Clan), assistant professor in the department of Indigenous studies, delivers the opening address in the Tuscarora language at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's regional conference. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Indigenous Studies)

New Indigenous student scholarship provides more than just funds


Thu, Jan 25th 2024 06:15 pm

By the University at Buffalo

Ongwe’onwe (pronounced “Oon-gway-oo(n)way”) is derived from a Seneca word and loosely translates to “native people,” which is the premise for a new Indigenous student scholarship at the University at Buffalo.

The Ongwe’onwe/Indigenous Student Scholarship is designed to reduce out-of-state tuition to the cost of in-state tuition for any student who is a certified/enrolled citizen in any U.S. federally recognized tribe or nation. The award is named in recognition of the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations Confederacy.

UB is located in the traditional territories of the Onödowa'ga:' (Seneca Nation), one of the six member nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora – and is in close proximity to a majority of the federally recognized Indigenous nations in New York state.

UB is also located in a cross-border region that is home to a vibrant urban Indigenous population and is only a short distance from Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest First Nations community in Canada.

“The scholarship is something that I had been working on for a very long time. The opportunity to establish this fund was realized when we built the department of Indigenous studies,” says Theresa McCarthy, associate dean for inclusive excellence, associate professor of Indigenous studies, and director or Indigenous studies.

The department’s formation began in January 2020 when the College of Arts and Sciences received a $3.17 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to support the university’s expanded commitment to Indigenous studies. The department focuses on humanities-centered research, educational programs and community outreach aimed at addressing key issues central to Indigenous life in the region, as identified by faculty, students, alumni and community stakeholders from the surrounding Haudenosaunee territories.

One of the areas of growth identified by founding members of the department was the out-of-state tuition charges for Indigenous students coming from Canada and other areas. As part of the Jay Treaty, signed in 1794, Indigenous people living in the U.S. or Canada may travel freely across the international boundary. However, Indigenous people coming from across the border to attend UB were considered out-of-state students and had to pay higher tuition fees, even though some of the students, in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, for example, live literally across the street from each other, but also across an international boundary. The Ongwe’onwe scholarship preserves the in-state tuition fees for Indigenous students.

“We wanted to make sure that people who are mainly affected by this border, which bisects our homeland, would be able to come and not have to pay additional fees to study here at UB,” McCarthy explained. “We are set to be a home and a hub for all Indigenous people, whether it is in the department or in the other decanal units and professional programs that that we have here.” 

Removing Boundaries for Connections

Paige Peoples, a sophomore in psychology, lives in New Jersey and her mother is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

“The University at Buffalo was my first choice for my undergraduate studies,” Peoples said. “Receiving this grant allows me to continue to attend UB without having to work during the school year, and helps me avoid coming out of school with tens of thousands of dollars in loans.”

“The scholarship helps me to focus on my studies and supports my ability to pursue a double major,” Peoples said. “My family and I are very thankful for this funding.”

While the scholarship is awarded to students, the funding provides a source of support for parents, too.

Bonnie Petrie said her daughter, Kathleen, was determined to attend UB for its Indigenous studies program after graduating high school in Texas. Even though the family is from Western New York, they lived in Texas during Kathleen’s senior year of high school and she would have been charged out-of-state tuition as a UB student.

Petrie said she’s especially grateful for the Ongwe’onwe scholarship and the opportunities UB is providing for her daughter.

“This scholarship has made it possible for my daughter to attend the University at Buffalo without being buried in devastating debt,” she said. “The program at UB explores Indigenous studies through the lens of the Haudenosaunee people ... her people. She is able to study her family’s history and culture, and also learn what it means to be Indigenous today. She can help not only to accurately preserve the vivid history of her ancestors, but she can also participate in creating a vibrant future for their descendants.”

Amanda Casali, associate director of Indigenous academic engagement in the department of Indigenous studies, said she often assists students in successfully applying for other opportunities through the department.

“Because Indigenous studies itself is multidisciplinary, we offer those support services to all our students, across all majors,” Casali said. “I have a number of students that receive other scholarships, and I work with them on their applications. We had a student who received two study abroad scholarships this semester. So, that’s just one of the things we do with students throughout the year to support them and help them with other concerns.”

McCarthy and Casali emphasized the entire department focuses on forming pivotal relationships with students, and providing a home and a hub for all Indigenous people, no matter where they are from.

“We are creating a department and a unit,” McCarthy said. “Our hub is about broader, Indigenous inclusion on our campus because we’re all still one community.”

More information on the Ongwe’onwe/Indigenous Student Scholarship is available online.

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