College and Culture, Part One

Joy Hollowell

Updated 7 months ago

In the early 1900s, thousands of Native American children were taken from their tribes and shipped to boarding schools to “Americanize” them.

Years later, many Native Americans in Maine still distrusted our education system.

But there’s been a shift in culture in the last decade or so.

When the University of Maine system first started its Native American Waiver program back in 19-34, only two were given out.

This semester, about 430 students within the seven campuses received the scholarship.

Joy Hollowell has part one of a special report on college and culture.

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“I had always known I was going to college and that no matter what, I could make it happen,” says Katrina Coston.

She did make it happen. Coston is a junior at UMaine in Orono, majoring in child development. Coston would like to teach some day and hopes to use her experiences growing up in the Penobscot Nation as learning tools.

“Most definitely,” says Coston. “I grew up dealing with a lot of racism and a lot of cruelty from other students. It would be nice to be a teacher and to be sensitive to those issues as well as being aware of the things that students go through.”

While attending Indian Island school, Tori Hildreth always knew she’d go to college.

“Yeah, both of my parents wanted me to go to school,” explains Hildreth. “That’s why it’s never really been an option.”

Costin and Hildreth are among a growing number of Native American students who are recipients of the university system’s tuition waiver program. To qualify, you must be a Maine resident with a tribal affiliation and maintain a 2.0 GPA. In exchange, all tuition and mandatory fees are waived.

“In addition to that, we also have a room and board grant that’s available to students who have a need,” explains Sharon Oliver, Senior Director of Admission at the University of Maine.

John Bear Mitchell’s father, Ted, founded the Wabanaki Center at UMaine in 1991. He’s also credited with creating a greater Native American presence at the school. Mitchell doesn’t view the waiver program as a giveaway, but rather paying it forward.

“And then what happens in the end, those students who have gone through the program then are able to get jobs that are higher income jobs,” says Mitchell. “Therefore they pay higher taxes back to the state.”

Mitchell adds the type of students using the waiver program has changed in the past decade, including a huge jump in graduate students. He credits some of that to the university reaching out to Native American communities.

“We are working with parents now to educate parents on how their children who are now students in the UMaine system, see their world,” explains Mitchell. “So in other words, if parents can speak the language, they know what a dean in, they know what a chairman of a department is, they know what a university is, they know what a college is, they become more comfortable in that.”

“There’s been opportunities for us to visit some of the reservations in Maine and talk to students,” adds Oliver, “talk to the educational officers there and encourage them to get their students to think about going on to get a higher education degree.”

Dr. Darren Ranco chairs Native American programs at UMaine. He says both recruitment and retention of Native American students are a work in progress.

“I think one of the things that we’re really working on is this idea of how their identity is seen,” says Dr. Ranco. “They’re able to see positive examples of who they are in their classes in Native American studies and other classes, but also that sense of comfort where they’re not entering a class that is about Indians and then somehow they have to teach other people, which is a common experience, or the professor doesn’t agree with them. They’re not leaving behind who they are when they come to a university.”
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You can apply for the University of Maine System’s Native American Tuition Waiver Program online at any of the seven campuses.

The deadline is March first.


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