DOI transfers another $4M to Cobell settlement scholarship fund

Students at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. Photo from Facebook

The scholarship fund that was created by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit keeps growing.

The Interior Department on Wednesday announced the transfer of another $4 million into the fund. It now boasts a balance of $35 million, money that will be used to enhance educational opportunities for tribal members across the country.

“The Interior Department is committed to taking meaningful steps to help fulfill the president’s goal of investing in the future of tribal nations," Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the department, said in a press release. "These scholarship funds help us meet that commitment by putting a down payment on the future of Indian Country and investing in the success of Native youth.”

The scholarship is seeded with proceeds from the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. A portion of every purchase goes into the fund as Indian landowners are paid for their fractional interests, which are then returned to tribal governments.

The settlement allows up to $60 million to be set aside for scholarships. The board of trustees that oversees the fund, however, will manage the money in order to keep the program going for as long as possible.

"The Cobell Board of Trustees is excited about the New Year and the opportunities that it brings to improve the efficiency, performance, and impact of the Cobell Scholarship Fund.," said Alex Pearl, a member of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as chair of the board.

The American Indian Graduate Center has been disbursing the first round of scholarships from fund. Some $2.5 million is benefiting students who represent more than 80 tribes at more than 175 academic institutions, according to the department.

“The Cobell Board of Trustees made a clear commitment to Native Americans’ higher education with $2 million in scholarship awards for higher education in the 2015/2016 academic year,” said Joan Currier, the center's interim CEO. “We look forward to the next round of awarding in the New Year.”

Some 3,441 Cobell applications were received last year, according to the center's website. Deadlines for the next round of scholarships haven't been announced.

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