TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed into law Tuesday legislation that adds $95,000 in new merit scholarships and gives students new ways to meet scholarship service requirements.
Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner’s Comprehensive Cherokee Nation Education Act of 2024 combines two existing laws governing the tribe’s higher education program and authorizes new merit-based scholarships for students living both at-large and within the reservation.
The new law also adds opportunities for undergraduate Cherokee students, including:
- $5,000 “Cherokee Nation Council Leadership Scholarship” awarded to students in each of 15 on-reservation Council districts and two for at-large citizen students.
- $5,000 “Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Leadership Scholarship” with nationwide eligibility.
- $5,000 “Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Leadership Scholarship” with nationwide eligibility.
- Opportunities for scholarship recipients in the tribe’s primary scholarship program in the Education Department to meet community service requirements through Cherokee language learning or participating in the new Gadugi Corps program.
The new merit-based “Leadership” scholarships will be administered by the Cherokee Nation Foundation, separate from the tribe’s primary scholarship program, which is administered by the Cherokee Nation Education Services Department.
The legislation also solidifies an annual contribution of $30,000 to the Cherokee Nation Foundation for additional scholarships for at-large citizens. The tribe has committed that level of funding for at-large scholarships for the last three academic years on a pilot program basis at the urging of at-large Councilors Johnny Kidwell and Julia Coates.
“We are building on the progress we made last year, where we lifted up all scholarship recipients,” said Chief Hoskin. “This new proposal embraces some of the ideas that have been under consideration in recent years in a way that expands opportunities in higher education.”
Councilor Kidwell applauded the overall package, but particularly the investment in at-large students.
“We have made a lot of progress for at-large, college-bound Cherokees in just a few short years,” said Councilor Kidwell. “We are moving in the right direction, and I see a real commitment by Cherokee leaders to do even more in the future.”
District 2 Councilor Candessa Tehee said she is encouraged to see a Cherokee language-learning incentive in the new legislation after suggesting it last year.
“There is a real desire among Cherokees, particularly young Cherokees, to reconnect with their culture,” said Councilor Tehee. “I’m excited this proposal allows scholarship recipients the option of Cherokee language study as a way to meet community service requirements.”
The tribe’s longstanding scholarship program requires 20 hours of community service each semester, typically by volunteering for a local non-profit organization.
Under the new law, students can also meet those requirements by participating in the tribe’s new Gadugi Corps program for volunteer and national service or through Cherokee language study. The new community service options will be available to students no later than the fall 2024 semester.
Deputy Chief Warner said the legislation is among the best type of investments the tribe could make.
“Although this proposal specifically boosts college scholarships, our overall effort in the last few years is to support Cherokees no matter their career goals,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “There is no better investment for the Cherokee people than a good education.”
The legislation also incentivizes Cherokee Nation government employees to make a payroll deduction contribution to the Cherokee Nation Foundation, with the tribe matching the first $50,000 in contributions across the workforce to support scholarships.
The Council of the Cherokee Nation unanimously approved Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner’s proposal at its January 22 committee and regular monthly council meeting.
Last year Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner worked with the Council of the Cherokee Nation to increase the tribe’s primary scholarship program. As a result, the tribe’s scholarship is now $2,250 per semester, and will increase to $2,500 per semester in the fall of 2024.
This year alone the tribe will commit over $19 million to its primary college scholarship program and over $428,000 in scholarships through the Cherokee Nation Foundation.
The Cherokee Nation Foundation also administers scholarships for behavioral health careers through a $5 million Public Health and Wellness Fund Act endowment set up by Chief Hoskin, Deputy Chief Warner and the Council last year and funded by part of the tribe’s opioid settlement funds.
The new law will not affect eligibility or funding levels for the tribe’s primary scholarship program, which is open to Cherokee students within the reservation, as well as contiguous counties to the reservation, and to low-income students living beyond that area across the United States.
For more information on Cherokee Nation scholarship programs visit the tribe’s Education Services department webpage at the tribe’s website, Cherokee.org, under the “All Services” tab.
For more information on the Cherokee Nation Foundation, including information on college scholarships and making tax-deductible donations, visit CherokeeNationFoundation.org
The new “leadership” merit scholarships will be available for the fall 2024 semester but will be announced and made available jointly by Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Foundation within the next few months.