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By Jan Siegel
On April 28, 2022, the University of California Native American Opportunity Plan began covering tuition and student service fees for Naive American students starting in fall of 2022! Students must be academically accepted by the university. It includes undergraduate and graduate students. But there is a caveat … the students must be members of a federally recognized tribe! So, what about the Juaneños who have been in our community for 10,000 years? Sorry, students must be from a federally recognized tribe. So, if you are a Hopi, Apache, or Cherokee living in California, you qualify; but if your ancestors have been here for thousands of years, you do not.
The reason for the stipulation, according to the University of California’s admission website, is that tuition coverage only includes Native American students from federally recognized tribes, because California public institutions cannot legally consider race or ethnicity when providing financial aid. A federally recognized tribe is a political, not racial, classification that refers to a community that has existed for an extended period of time with political influence over its members, according to the Department of the Interior. But even that definition has political overtones, as Juaneños are aware.
However, all is not lost. A federally recognized Northern California tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, will grant scholarships to non-federally represented students if they can prove a host of regulations, including a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood showing a California affiliation or descent from a person with a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood showing a California tribal affiliation on the California census rolls of 1928 or 1933 or on the California Judgment Fund Rolls of 1933 or 1972. For further information, their email address is FIGRUCScholarship@gratonrancheria.com. The bad news is that applications must be in by July 15 for the 2022 semester. But since this will obviously take time, starting now for enrollment in the spring or fall of 2023 seems like a good idea.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is a recognized California tribe by combining tribes that could not prove their legitimacy individually. When California became part of the United States, Congress enacted legislation that basically forfeited tribal land, leaving most tribes in California landless. In 1992, Chairman Greg Sarris raised money to travel to Washington, D.C. to fight for restoration of federal status of the Miwok, but they later combined with two other tribes to form the Graton Rancheria. and claimed 152 members. In 2000, President Clinton signed into law legislation “restoring federal recognition to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.” It was then transferred to three separate groups. By 2013, the Rancheria had secured land for a casino and had become wealthy enough to be able to offer grants to non-federally recognized tribes in California.
If you are a Native American planning on attending a University of California campus in the near future, or know someone who is planning to attend, it is worth spending a “Moment In Time” and finding out if you qualify for free tuition. It might also mean that you can consider going for a graduate degree that you did not think you could afford. It is also important to keep working on federal recognition for our Juaneño tribe.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.