Facts and Figures About the Tribes That AIS Helps

October 8, 2019

To help you get a sense of the people we serve, we’ve created a list of the top ten tribes who have received the most AIS scholarships so far in 2019, with a brief summary of their histories and cultures. We are only halfway through our 2019 award cycle, so these amounts will nearly double by the end of the cycle.


Navajo Nation
799 AIS scholarships distributed
$805,250 – combined award amount
332,129 enrolled members

Navajo is the second largest federally recognized tribe and they have the largest reservation in the country. The reservation straddles the Four Corners region and covers more than 27,000 square miles of land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Navajo is a name given to them by the Spanish, but they’ve always called themselves Diné, or The People.

In an attempt at relocation, the U.S. army forced 2,000 men, women, and children to walk 300 miles to New Mexico, many of whom died either on the way or in the internment camps afterward. The Navajo leader Chief Manuelito led a resistance to the relocation that proved successful and the Navajo were allowed to return to a reduced portion of their homeland. Chief Manuelito was an inspiring leader who strongly believed in education and our Navajo scholarship recipients often cite his quote, “Education is the ladder. Tell our people to take it.”

The Diné society is based primarily upon kinship arising from clan affiliation, and all Navajo have four clans. In the creation myth the original four clans were given to the Navajo by the Changing Woman. Often when our Navajo students introduce themselves they also recite their clans, which is a traditional formal introduction and shows how important this system is to their culture.


Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
57 AIS scholarships distributed
$45,500 – combined award amount
30,000 enrolled members

The Turtle Mountain reservation headquarters is located in Belcourt, North Dakota. The name Chippewa, like many other tribes on this list, was given to them by Europeans. Their autonym is Ojibway. Before the fur trade came to their land and forced the Chippewa to adopt a life of pursuing buffalo on the Great Plains, they were a wood-land oriented people whose main diet subsisted of wild rice. After being forced to sign treaties that left them without land and the fur trade left them without resources, they were finally given two townships in 1892 and an agreement in 1904 that they could create homesteads on any U.S. owned land without charge. Due to multigenerational distress and geographical isolation the Chippewa poverty rate is 44% and the unemployment rate is 69.25%. Despite these dire circumstances the Chippewa have made several strides toward establishing industry on their reservation, including the Turtle Mountain Community College where many of our Chippewa students attend.

The Chippewa use the drum at social and spiritual ceremonies and they believe the drum to be the heart of the people. Their religious beliefs are based on the ethics of the Midewewin, their medicine healers. Members of the Midewewin believe that Mother Earth is a living thing, and that all plants and animals contain a spirit that is part of the Divine Creator. The Chippewa respect and live as one with all life. Respect is a value that they honor.


Alaskan Native
45 AIS scholarships distributed
$59,750 – combined award amount
120,000 enrolled members

Alaskan Natives are actually a diverse group of tribes, but they are generally grouped together due to their interactions with the U.S. government occurring in a different historic period than indigenous groups in the colonies. The tribes can be divided into five major groupings: Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, and the Tlingit and Haida. While each Alaskan tribe has unique cultures and histories, there are several similarities that they share.

They each developed sophisticated ways to deal with the challenging climate of Alaska. Legends and customs evolved in harmony with the specific part of Alaska where they settled. To survive the harsh climate, a deep awareness and unity with the flora and fauna is a necessity, as is respect and cooperation among their village members.

They are bold hunters and skilled gatherers. When the Russians came to the region they exploited these skills by enslaving the Natives, or by heavily taxing them in the form of furs. Land disputes with the U.S. government continued late into the 20th century. Alaska Natives have small villages rather than large reservations. Their aboriginal hunting and fishing rights have been extinguished, but they are still allowed to harvest whales and other marine mammals, and this hunting continues to be an important part of their cultures.


Nooksack Indian Tribe
17 AIS scholarships distributed
$12,750 – combined award amount
1,800 enrolled members

The Nooksack live in the northwest region of Washington state along the Nooksack River. Historically they relied on fishing, hunting, clam digging, and root gathering, and the name Nooksack actually translates to “always bracken fern roots.” The Nooksack were overlooked by the federal government and weren’t given a treaty in time to offer them protection from losing their land to white settlers. In 1971 they were finally granted 1 acre of land to establish a reservation. Since then the tribe’s holdings have expanded to 2,500 acres. The Nooksack territory originally extended from Skagit County into British Columbia.

At the turn of the 20th century, Nooksack and other Native children across the nation were taken from their families to attend boarding schools in order to undergo forced assimilation where they were brutalized and stripped of their cultural identity. To fight this identity loss and preserve their language the Nooksack have established a language reclamation project. Students who participate in the project are immersed in the language and work on special projects where language is a vital aspect. At the end of four years they are fully qualified language teachers with a certificate that is the equivalent of a B.A., and they are then able to teach the language and culture to tribal youth.


Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation
16 AIS scholarships distributed
$17,000 – combined award amount
16,457 enrolled members

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation compose the Three Affiliated Tribes. The reservation is located on the Missouri River spanning 6 counties in central North Dakota. The reservation is governed by the MHA Nation Tribal Business Council and employs over 1,100 people.

At the height of the historic culture of the Mandan, they were prosperous and peaceful farmers and traders, noted for their excellent maize cultivation and crafting of Knife River flint. The Mandan banded together with the Hidatsa for survival after a smallpox epidemic left the Mandan with only 125 survivors. It is estimated that 90% of the indigenous people of the Americas were killed by European diseases such as smallpox. The Arikara later settled with the Hidatsa and Mandan and the three tribes formed a confederacy. Out of this confederacy homogenous societies evolved and the Three Affiliated Tribes were able to survive.


Lummi Tribe
13 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,000 – combined award amount
4,483 enrolled members

The Lummi Nation is located in western Washington only 20 miles south of the Canadian border. They are also known as the Lhaq’temish or People of the Sea. They hunted, fished, and gathered near the sea and mountain areas and returned seasonally to their longhouses situated in Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands. They developed a fishing technique known as reef netting, and it is recognized by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as the best technique for selective fishing.

Tribes in this region held gift-giving feasts called potlatches. The Canadian government rigorously banned the events and the tradition fell out of practice. In 2007 the Lummi revived the tradition and hosted their first potlatch since the 1930’s. 68 families paddled hand-made canoes to the reservation from different parts of the state as part of the celebration.


Hopi Tribe
12 AIS scholarships distributed
$15,000 – combined award amount
19,338 enrolled members

The Hopi reservation is located in northeastern Arizona. The Hopi are known for their constructions of large apartment-house complexes and an advanced culture that spanned the present-day Four Corners region. It is one of the oldest living cultures in the world, beginning in approximately 500 CE.

The name Hopi is short for Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, which translates to Peaceful Little Ones. The Hopi religion is very complex, with a highly developed belief system that continues to guide much of their life. Hopi is a concept, and to be Hopi is to strive toward total reverence, respect, and peace toward all things. The Hopi observe their traditional ceremonies for the benefit of the entire world. Perhaps the widest known aspect of the religion is kachina dolls, which are a representation of the Katsina guardian spirits, and are given to the daughters of the village during ceremonies. The Katsina act as intermediaries between the spirit world and the people.


Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
11 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,500 – combined award amount
15,568 enrolled members

The Standing Rock Reservation is located in the Dakotas, and is the 6th largest reservation at 3,571.9 square miles. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is part of what was once known as the Great Sioux Nation. Their original treaty included the Black Hills, which were sacred to them. But when General Custer found gold there, the government wanted to buy back or rent the hills. The Sioux refused and the Great Sioux War began, which included the Battle of Little Bighorn. Eventually the U.S. won and they took the hills from the Sioux in violation of their treaty. A further violation came when they again reduced Sioux land and divided it into smaller groups. The Sioux were forced to farm rather than continue their nomadic horse culture. Farming proved difficult in that region and the people faced starvation. Their difficulties continue today, with one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the country.


White Mountain Apache Tribe
10 AIS scholarships distributed
$10,000 – combined award amount
15,000 enrolled members

The tribe is located in eastern Arizona, 194 miles north of Phoenix, where they have lived for thousands of years. They believe they belong to the Earth and that their home was given to them by their Creator. The elevation of their reservation starts at about 2,600’ above sea level on the southwest side, and ranges all the way up to 11,400’ on the peak of Mt. Baldy on the eastern border. It is considered their most sacred mountain, and there are clear views of it from the Sunrise Ski Resort, which is owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache. They were originally nomadic but eventually became farmers. When the U.S. army first came to their chief’s village they hoisted white flags from every home and immediately fed corn to the soldier’s horses and warmly welcomed the men. This welcome, as well as an agreement to allow the army to build a military post on their uniquely beautiful land, assured peace during a time when the U.S. was in conflict with other Apache nations.


Cherokee Nation
9 AIS scholarships distributed
$12,750 – combined award amount
370,000 enrolled members

The Cherokee Nation is the largest of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes, and is the largest tribe in the U.S. It is located in Oklahoma and employs over 11,000 people. The Cherokee originally lived in the Appalachian Mountains, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. At the time of European colonization they were one of the largest politically integrated tribes in America. Between 1800 and 1830 the Cherokee made rapid strides toward assimilation. They created a syllabary which helped almost the entire tribe to become literate, and they adopted colonial methods of farming and home building. But due to gold being found in Georgia and a general desire for expansion, agitation to remove the tribe increased. In the winter of 1838 16,000 members of the tribe were forced at gunpoint to march 1,000 miles on foot to Oklahoma. One quarter of them died on the way. This trek is known as The Trial of Tears.

Much of the Cherokee spiritual and ceremonial practices are kept private, but local communities strive to keep their cultural practices alive today.


Native Americans are a beautifully diverse group, and this is just a small sampling of the over 300 tribes that we serve. Our goal is to help as many Native American students as we can, and we are working daily to spread the word about our programs. To help us expand our reach please find us on Facebook and share our page with your followers.





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