An influx of students need funding, AIS is providing it
In times of crisis, the vulnerable are always the hardest hit. Unfortunately, the remote parts of our country where many Native Americans live aren’t immune to the reach of COVID-19. As of this writing on April 20th, the Navajo Nation has an infection rate per capita that is higher than all but 2 U.S. states. Tribal elders, who serve as community knowledge keepers, are more likely to die of the virus because of high rates of heart disease and diabetes among elderly Native Americans. Only 51.3% of Native American households have health insurance, and on remote tribal lands adequate health care is hard to find. On some reservations it’s estimated that only 40% of homes have running water, making the necessary hygiene to combat the virus difficult.
This is a bleak picture but the Native people are doing everything they can to protect their communities. The Lummi Tribe acted quickly and opened up a pioneering field hospital to help treat the sick in their area, and they called for social distancing measures well before the rest of the nation. The Navajo Nation has ordered rapid test kits to help contain the virus. The Yurok Tribe created an Incident Command Team to navigate the needs of their people. Many tribes declared a state of emergency early on in order to secure funding and prepare their healthcare facilities, and health clinics have devoted extra resources to COVID-19 patients.
Most helpful of all, the tribes negotiated $10 billion in aid from the CARES stimulus package, $8 billion of which will go toward reimbursing tribes for coronavirus expenses already incurred. The remainder will go toward better equipping tribal health services, improving emergency response times on tribal lands, providing economic relief for tribal members, and food delivery to the elderly and low-income families. But this leaves our scholarship recipients who are facing unique challenges to navigate the social effects of this virus themselves.
Universities have closed campuses and moved their courses online. Many students have been forced out of their dorms, where computers and high speed internet access were readily available, to go back to their family homes on remote tribal lands where 47% of homes lack these essential resources to finish their courses. This means that students who can’t afford to buy a computer and an internet connection will have to either attempt to complete their coursework on their smart phones, or drop out.
In order to prevent students from dropping out and to address the larger than usual amount of applications we are receiving, we have extended our spring and summer scholarship deadlines to May 1st. When students have tuition funding it frees them up to purchase necessary things like books and computers in order to be successful in their studies – not to mention the basics like food, clothing, and housing. American Indian Services is well situated to weather this storm and we will do everything in our power to continue providing this aid to Native American students.
We have been able to transition our office staff to working from home without any interruption in our scholarship distribution schedule. Our gala gave us a highly successful start to our fundraising this year. We raised $880,362, which is 31% of our scholarship program’s expenses for the year, and we have secured several other grants and donations. This means that the scholarship program will be able to stay robust in the face of these trying times. We are resilient and we will continue to adapt as needed. You can count on us to keep serving Native Americans at a time when they need us most.