Native Americans gather in Las Vegas

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By Don Pace

Governors and other tribal leaders from 23 Native American tribes and pueblos gathered Thursday at Kennedy Hall on the Highlands University campus to sign an agreement to promote higher education opportunities for Native Americans.

“It’s a phenomenal thing to have so many governors, lieutenant governors and education directors from the different pueblos and tribes here to celebrate and recognize the importance of education and the role that Highlands can play in expanding educational opportunities for Native American students,” Highlands President Jim Fries said.

Fries said this spring, the university has Native American students from 19 different tribes. He said there are also students from 43 states and 32 countries.

“Highlands is an institution where people of such diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to learn from one another on a daily basis. In my view, that’s what education is all about — how we can learn from one another, support one another and use education as a means of economic advancement for everybody,” Fries said.  

Rochelle Yazzie, a native of  Tohajiilee and Native American student services coordinator at Highlands, said the new memorandum of understanding updates a 1997 agreement between the university and 22 New Mexico tribes and one tribe from Texas.

“One big change in the agreement is that Highlands will now offer a total of 69 tuition scholarships, three per tribe, compared to the 23 that were part of the 1997 signing. These scholarships are now available to both undergraduate and graduate students,” Yazzie said.

Gov. Norman Cooeyate was one of the leaders to sign the new memorandum of understanding for the Zuni Tribe.

“This was an historic moment to actually be part of this signing ceremony where now we are given the opportunity to have our students go beyond the local branch colleges that we have. It opens the door for them to explore other parts of New Mexico and to be given the opportunity to follow their dreams, and I am really happy to be part of this. It is certainly a win-win for both entities, particularly for all the native populations that Highlands University serves. I am thankful and honored to be here,” Cooeyate said.

Teresa Billy, Native American retention and recruiting coordinator, said she was excited to have all the governors and representatives on campus. She said work has been going on for more than a year and is overjoyed to see the time and effort pay off in a big way.

“Its been a long time coming for this event and we are thrilled to see this agreement signed, now these scholarships become available for a lot of our students,” Billy said. 

Yazzie said that this semester, a total of 227 Native American students attend Highlands at its out-of-town centers and at the main campus in Las Vegas.

Highlands also hosted a free Native American financial aid workshop for its currently enrolled students.