Dozens of Osages, including college students, expressed concern and disappointment over the recent events surrounding the delay in scholarship funds being awarded to the recipients at an Oct. 11 rally in Pawhuska.
Sheryl Hill, a Pawnee Nation College student, spearheaded the rally after she did not receive the remainder of her $3,500 scholarship once her books and tuition were paid and the story behind the scholarship disbursements started unfolding last month through student complaints and congressional committee meetings seeking details on the situation.
Hill told the 40-plus attendees that officials within the Executive Branch “broke a treaty” when the scholarship funds were withheld. She said the treaty agreement was broken because those qualified scholarship recipients who turned in their completed application materials on time did not receive their monies even though the Education Department mailed letters of intent to the schools’ bursar’s offices.
Executive Branch and Education Department officials said the department restructured “how funds are distributed, and what systems are in place to promote accountability in the expenditure of those funds” during congressional meetings last month to make sure students are spending the excess money for room and board and not spending it irresponsibly. The students must fill out additional applications to receive the remainder of their monies for room and board, and for supplies.
But the new application process has not helped all of this year’s 717 tribal scholarship recipients.
Matthew Shunkamolah returned to New Mexico State University to earn a master’s degree, where he earned his bachelor’s, and hoped the $3,500 scholarship he was awarded from the Nation would help pay for this semester’s expenses because a student loan didn’t work out. Shunkamolah said the paperwork hassles left him making a tough decision just over a month after classes and exams started.
“It didn’t work out so I had to drop out of school because I have car payments like everyone else, I’m an adult and have bills to take care of,” Shunkamola, 29, said. “It was just a big embarrassment and a defeat for myself,” he said adding he moved back in with his parents.
Shunkamolah said he will support a petition being circulated by Hill calling for action to the situation. The petition was 10 pages long at the time of the rally, but is subject to change pending feedback from interested people. “I want to hear what everyone has to say,” Hill said.
In the petition, Hill wrote: “It is time for a Education Bill to be written and passed into law, to prevent such a travesty from ever occurring again, by the officials that we, the entire Osage Nation, have placed into office by election, or employees of the Osage Nation appointed to a position, by the individual, or group of individuals, that we, as a Nation, have elected into office.”
Parents and grandparents of students also attended and spoke discussing hardships placed on them because of the scholarship situation because some are helping the students cover the remaining fees and expenses with their own money.
“You just don’t do this to your people,” Hill said, adding she will give government officials time to take action because Principal Chief Jim Gray, who is in charge of the Executive Branch, was on the multi-purpose France delegation trip at the time of the rally. The petition asks government officials for a reply by Oct. 30.
Joe Shunkamolah, who attended the rally in Wakon Iron Hall with his son Matthew Shunkamolah, suggested another gathering be held up on the hill at the government campus and ask the chief to speak with them.
In addition to Executive Branch officials, the petition is also addressed to officials and leaders with the Nation’s Minerals Council, the Native American Rights Fund, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the National Congress of American Indians, the American Indian Movement and all Osage tribal members.