Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently announced the selection of Pamela Agoyo, of the University of New Mexico, and Jean O’Brien, of the University of Minnesota, to serve as the Secretary’s appointees to the Board of Trustees for the Cobell Education scholarship fund. The five-member board will oversee the scholarship fund, which was authorized by the Cobell Settlement to provide financial assistance to Native American students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training.
“It is with great pleasure that I announce the selection of these two outstanding educational leaders whose accomplishments have opened the doors of higher education to all American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Secretary Jewell said. “Their experience and expertise will be exceptionally valuable to the Board of Trustees as the scholarship fund helps students across Indian Country access the higher education they need to succeed in today’s world. The fund will help strengthen Indian communities, advance tribal progress and secure a better future for Native Americans, honoring Eloise Cobell’s vision and perseverance.”
Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, who negotiated the Cobell Settlement on behalf of the Department said, “The Cobell settlement not only resolved long-standing, historic grievances but looks to the future by opening doors to the next generation of Native American leaders through education.”
The scholarship fund will be funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, which was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10-year period. Up to $60 million from sales will be designated for the scholarship fund in addition to purchase amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners will receive for their interests. Sales have already occurred on the Pine Ridge and Makah Reservations with deadlines for initial offers in the next few weeks.
Agoyo, of Kewa, Cochiti and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo ancestry, is director of American Indian Student Services and special assistant to the president for American Indian Affairs at UNM. She has 20 years of experience working with American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students in the area of scholarship and financial aid processing, review, selection and awarding. She has held several posts at UNM, including director of Scholarship Outreach, working extensively in the area of scholarship administration. Agoyo will also serve as the incoming chairperson of the National Indian Education Association, the oldest and largest national organization of Indian education professionals, and currently serves on its board of directors.
Agoyo said, "With a seat at the table, the University of New Mexico is tapped into what's happening on the national front in higher education for native students. With New Mexico's large native population, we must invest in and support this national initiative." She added that she works for success for all students. "The Cobell scholarship fund is a great resource that lays the groundwork to support post secondary education for native students across the country."
An enrolled citizen of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Mississippi Band of the White Earth Ojibwa, O’Brien is a professor of history and chair of the University of Minnesota Department of American Indian Studies, the oldest American Indian Studies Department in the country. During her almost 25 years with the university she has published extensively on American Indian and United States history; taught scores of American Indian history to undergraduate and graduate students, both Native and non-Native; presented at numerous scholarly gatherings; and is a member of several professional historical organizations. She co-founded and is a former president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, an academic organization that brings together Native American and Indigenous Studies scholars from around the world.
The fund will be administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colo., with 20 percent directed to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque.
In addition to the two representatives selected by the Secretary, the Board of Trustees includes two selected by the plaintiff and one by the American Indian College Fund. Pursuant to the authorizing legislation, the Secretary chose her members after consulting with federally-recognized Indian tribes and considering the candidates they nominated. Board members will serve an initial term of four years and may be reappointed for an unlimited number of successive terms. The board is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the activities of the fund’s administering organization and for developing and adopting a charter outlining its role and responsibilities.