Expanding Educational Opportunities for Native American Students
For two multi-generational Idaho families, respect for their Native American neighbors comes from a deep sense of gratitude and acknowledgement of past injustices.
The Waters and Longeteig families farmed for more than 100 years on the Camas Prairie near Craigmont, Idaho on historic Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) land. The families obtained the land as a consequence of the Dawes Act of 1887 (also known as the General Allotment Act), and an 1893 agreement that the Nimiipuu were pressured into signing, which declared unallotted Nimiipuu land was "surplus" to be sold to the U.S. Government for homesteading.
While living among the Nimiipuu and using the livelihood earned from farming the land, members of both families were able to attend the University of Idaho, just 70 miles to the north. Wilfred Waters was the first to graduate in 1915, followed through four generations by 17 Longeteigs and Stroms, plus six spouses, all of whom attended or graduated from the U of I.
A century later, Karen Longeteig ’67, daughter of Margaret Nell Waters Longeteig ’40 and Iver Longeteig Jr. ’39, recognized the benefits she and her family enjoyed from obtaining a college education, along with the complicated and discomfiting history of the land they inhabited.
“Both families recognized the two enormous debts we owe,” Karen said. “First we owe a debt to the Nimiipuu, whose ancestral land provided us with our living, and then to U of I for the high-quality, yet affordable education we received in Moscow.”
As caretaker of her mother’s finances, Karen came up with an idea that would align with her and her mother’s wishes to give back to the Nimiipuu, and expand educational opportunities at U of I: the Waters Longeteig Family Scholarship.
“I spoke to my mom on her birthday, directly after setting up the scholarship and said, ‘Mom your money has established a scholarship for the Nez Perce native students;’ Mom said ‘Oh, good!’” Her mother was 101 years old at the time. She passed away in November 2019.
“The impact of scholarships is huge,” said Sydel Samuels, director of the Native American Student Center (NASC). “Need-based scholarships are important, along with out-of-state tuition assistance, varied degree-focused scholarships and scholarships/assistance for graduate students.”
Of the U of I students working with the NASC, 94 percent are in good standing at U of I, with an average institutional GPA of 2.82. NASC students are also exceeding the national graduation average for Native American students attaining their bachelor’s degrees.
“As a member of the Native American Student Scholarship Committee, I can say that we are very thankful for the current endowments and scholarships and directly see the great benefit it provides students on campus,” Samuels said. “Scholarships allow students to not have to worry about their account balance, holds and books. They can focus on attending classes, finishing readings and getting involved in campus activities.”
Starting in the fall of 2020, the Waters Longeteig Family Scholarship will be awarded to at least one student with financial need, with special consideration given to the members of the Nimiipuu Tribe. Recipients will be selected by the Native American Student Scholarship Committee. If no Nimiipuu tribal members qualify, other students of Native American heritage will be given priority.
“I hope Native American students at U of I benefit from this scholarship,” Karen said. “I’m happy we were able to get this done while my mom was still alive.”
By Joshua Nishimoto, University Advancement