In summary

Tuition waivers can never atone for damage done to Native Americans. Not all need the help, but most people historically oppressed by government policy and abuse do.

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By David Hampton, Thousand Oaks

David Hampton is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, holds two degrees, and is head of engineering for a prominent social influencer marketing platform.

Re “Tuition-waiver policy for Native Americans isn’t the right way to atone for historical wrongs”; Commentary, June 29, 2022

Donald Craig Mitchell uses partial truths and misdirection in stating that Native Americans shouldn’t be given a tuition waiver. He deploys phrases that obscure the genocide committed against Native Americans in California. “Facinorous” is accurate, but I think hardly anyone knows it means “atrociously wicked.” Even my spell-checker flags it as an unknown word.

But let’s dive into the atrocities: bounties for Indian scalps, eradication of food supplies, mass extermination, the reduction of the California native population from 150,000 to 16,000. The use of the word “facinorous” in reference to genocide is veiled intellectualism. Over 15 million Native Americans were exterminated by the colonists and U.S. government in their first 300 years on this continent. That makes them over twice as deadly than the Nazis of Germany. And the U.S. government broke every single one of its 173 treaties with Native American tribes.

Mitchell is correct in stating that tribes are political, rather than racial, entities. He is incorrect in stating that granting Native Americans free tuition is just a proxy for race. Any cursory study of Cherokee history will show that many (if not most) of the Cherokee were “Caucasian”-looking. This is because, beginning in the late 1500s, the Cherokee had many mixed marriages. But they still were discriminated against simply because they were Cherokee.

As a Cherokee citizen, my family has a deep history. My great-great-grandfather drove a wagon on the Trail of Tears. Oklahomans stole his land during the allotment period. All my uncles fled Indian territory just to survive. None went to college, nor did their children or their children’s children. This is what cultural genocide does: It destroys lives, hope and opportunity.

My father, brother and I are the only ones who made it out of that disaster zone and attended college. Are there some Native Americans who don’t need the help? Sure. But do most people historically oppressed by government policy and abuse need it? Yes. 

Native Americans are three times more likely to be killed by the police than any other group. Native American women are more likely to be kidnapped and killed than any other group by a factor of 6 to 1. Native American children are more likely to be wrongly forced into foster care by a 4 to 1 ratio. Native Americans are less than half as likely to earn a college degree.

The University of California’s tuition waiver could never atone for the damage done. It’s not meant to. But it is a move in the right direction.

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