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The Gila River Indian Community in Mesa Arizona has a membership of about 22,000. For the majority of their existence the community has lived on the reservation, rarely leaving to pursue much of anything at all. However, now that they are making millions of dollars off gambling revenue, the Gila River Indians are leaving the reservation, mostly to go to school.
Approximately 20% of the 22,000 registered members are now living in places off the reservation. More than 400 of those are attending community colleges and universities, mostly in Arizona.
In 1997, the tribe had set aside $400,000 for education. Today there is more than $7 million available for any member to receive a scholarship if they wish to attend higher education classes.
“The Tribe pays for any members education, however, many are finding the transition from reservation life to that of a university, is a difficult one,” said Eddie Brown, former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, and now director of Arizona State University’s American Indian Studies program.
“Students often find themselves torn between their commitment to their families and the expectations they face at school,” said Brown “you have your parents support and everything is focused on you, but in Indian culture, you are still part of the family. You are tied to that culture. If a ceremony takes several days, you are expected to be there. You just go.”
Brown said he “hopes the new American Indian Policy and Leadership Development Center at ASU will change that. This year, the center is consolidating services that had been spread across campus. The center, along with more American Indian advisers, will increase retention and make students more comfortable.”