Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Students, community demands U of MN expand tuition program for native students

By Siobhan Moore

Protest on the U of MN Twin Cities campus demands expansion of tuition program f

Minneapolis, MN – On Friday, March 17, over 50 students and community members gathered outside the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and braved the bitter winds to demand the University of Minnesota expand the Native American Promise Tuition Program and fund the American Indian Studies department. University of Minnesota Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) collaborated with the American Indian Student Cultural Center (AISCC) to organize this protest to fight for native students’ rights.

Emcees from AISCC and SDS led chants and introduced the first speakers of the action. “The U of M is a land-grant institution that was part of the Morrill Act of 1862. It was built on stolen Dakota land,” explained Taryn Long, secretary of the AISCC. “Today these universities, including the University of Minnesota, continue to profit off of indigenous homelands.” As Bryce Riesner of SDS explained, despite the revenue and funding generated from this land, “the university established this program to make up for the sins that it has been complicit in since its founding, yet it has only helped 18 freshmen.”

Laila Gourd, outreach coordinator of the AISCC stated, “Our demands include expanding the Native American Tuition Promise Program. Currently it does not include students that were enrolled last year, and we would like the tuition program to expand to include all undergraduate, graduate and professional-level students, as well as including transfer students from any college, not just the tribal colleges.” Gourd also raised the demand for transparency on statistics from the university, and highlighted the need to include all native students, both enrolled and descendants from any and all federal and state-recognized tribes, as currently the program only applies to native students enrolled in a Minnesota tribe.

“The notion of confrontation politics arose part-and-parcel to American Indian Studies in this city. In 1969 the American Indian Studies Department was founded; it is the oldest department in the country, and we’re in the basement of Scott Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus,” explained Nick Estes, a professor in the American Indian Studies Department. Estes went on to encourage students and faculty from across the University to support the fight, “This isn’t an Indian problem, this is everyone’s problem.”

Speaking for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, David Gilbert-Pederson, who is also an AFSCME organizer said his union “fought really hard over the last year in bargaining with the university for paid time off for Juneteenth and paid time off to participate in tribal elections. The U fought us every step of the way, but we won, and we know that that wouldn’t have happened without struggle. We know that increasing the tuition promise isn’t gonna happen without struggle. We stand with you, because this isn’t just an issue of broadly racism, this is about national oppression.”

Other speakers included Audrianna Goodwin of the TRUTH project; Anthony Taylor-Gougé, a member of the Anti-War Committee; Rachel Thunder of the American Indian Movement (AIM); a member of the Climate Justice Committee, and Frank Paro, the national chair of AIM.

#MinneapolisMN #IndigenousPeoples #UniversityOfMinnesota