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Minnesota Native News

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Minnesota Native News is a weekly radio segment covering ideas and events relevant to Minnesota’s Native American communities. Made possible by the Minnesota Art's and Cultural Heritage fund


New Free Tuition Program, and Healing Trauma Through Doll-making

The University of Minnesota is offering free or reduced tuition for Native students. And a youth group brings together different nations and generations to heal from the legacy of boarding schools. Feven Gerezgiher reports:

The University of Minnesota has offered free tuition to American Indian students on its Morris campus from its founding. This goes back to 1909, when Congress deeded a boarding school to the state of Minnesota with the stipulation that an institution of learning be maintained and American Indian students “be admitted free of charge.”

Now, starting next fall, the University of Minnesota is providing free or reduced tuition for Native students on all five of its campuses.

According to a news release, the tuition waiver program is available to enrolled citizens of federally recognized tribal nations in Minnesota. Students must be starting their first year of an undergraduate program or transferring from a tribal college.

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College President Stephanie Hammitt said this is a good thing.

“Anything that we can do to help the students to make it easier, make it less stressful for them to continue on -  that's what we want to support,” she said.  “And definitely with lower or free tuition, that is something that is going to benefit all those students.”

Hammitt said having the financial assistance to attend a large, research institution like the U could encourage students to pursue different fields or advanced degrees.

University officials said in a release that they’re working to improve retention and graduation rates of Native American students by increasing financial assistance and by reinforcing student support programs.

Hammitt said extending the tuition assistance to transfer students from tribal colleges helps set students up for success.

“Some students might not feel comfortable going directly to a university setting,” she said. “And therefore, you know, a smaller tribal college might suit their needs and help them gain the confidence they need to move on.”     

Hammitt said ideally the financial aid would be offered to descendants of enrolled members, too. 

To be considered for the University of Minnesota Native American Promise Tuition Program, students have to apply for admission and financial aid, and show their tribal citizenship.


And now a story about healing through doll-making:

When 215 children were found buried on the lands of a former residential school in Canada earlier this spring, local community members found their own histories uncovered.

As the summer progressed, members of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli and Indigenous Roots in St Paul gathered to grieve and honor the found children - and the children that survived - through ceremony and sewing spirit medicine dolls. This week, their work culminates in Dia de los Muertos ceremonies and an exhibition.

Elder Maria Morin McCoy is from the Bear Clan and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She led the making of the spirit dolls as a way to give life to the uncovered children.

“Working through the dolls, the spirits of the children began to talk to the doll makers,” she said. “So many of the people that participated in making a doll had actual experiences, dreams, or just knowing as they were sewing the bodies together of what had happened to the children, and they began to tell them their story.”

McCoy said she and others involved with the project have been connecting with their loved ones who were directly impacted by boarding schools, finally opening up about that difficult history.

Ruti Mejia is one of the youth organizers and dollmakers. She said the project was started by members of her traditional dance group who needed a space for healing. She says it has become an opportunity for intertribal connection.

“Because we've historically been displaced and been dispersed to not collaborate with each other, and to some extent, sometimes put against each other,” she explained. “But we really are intentionally disabling all of that, and dismantling that and really coming back to our ways of gathering, our ways of sharing, our ways of spending time with community, sharing a meal.” 

Organizers said they found it fitting to hold a ceremony on the first day of Dia de los Muertos, which traditionally honors the death of children. The exhibit is open to the public at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center through November 30.

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