Dozens of American Indian tribes used to call Colorado home, before westward-advancing settlers scattered them to other territories. Now a proposal in the Colorado state legislature would invite descendents of those groups back, to get an education.
The bipartisan proposal introduced this week would allow members of tribes that historically occupied Colorado – but aren’t located here now – to pay the same for college as state residents. At least 48 tribes would be eligible, include the Navajo, Kiowa, and Arapaho.
"I’m hoping that this encourages students who have historic ties to Colorado to come to Colorado," said the bill's sponsor, Representative Joe Salazar [D-Thornton], "and that they’ll stay here and help our economy grow."
Salazar says his bill is an attempt to address historic injustices against the tribes, as well as persistently high poverty rates in Native communities today.
"We know that one of the greatest ways of getting out of poverty is through education, and particularly through higher education," he said.
Officials estimate up to a thousand students a year from around the country might take advantage of the discounted tuition. Several other states, including Iowa, Maine, and Massachusetts, have similar policies granting in-state tuition to members of historically-connected tribes.
Native students of any tribe do already have one big incentive to study in Colorado; Fort Lewis College in Durango is one of two institutions in the country that offer free tuition to all eligible Native Americans. Of 943 Native students enrolled there in 2012, 801 came from out of state.