American Indian students at U of M protest funding loss


After a decision cutting all funding for next year, the American Indian Student Cultural Center (AISCC) rallied support April 7 at a U of M hearing on student service fees. The AISCC requested $50,000 for next year and the Student Services Fees Committee recommended that they get not a single penny. Last year they received $26, 520.

Student Service fees are divided among student groups at the University of Minnesota. Fees Committee recommendations will be discussed and finalized at the Board of Regents meeting in May. Jerry Rinehart, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, sat at a table while members from various student groups voiced their concerns about various topics.

The front two rows at the hearing were filled with about 30 AISCC supporters, out of the total of 55 people present. One speaker said cutting off entire cultural centers budgets was “offensive.”

“This is our last chance,” said Miguel Vargas, another AISCC member at the public hearing.

Many of the speakers for the AISCC testified how the organization impacted their life and its importance on the University of Minnesota campus. The AISCC’s main focus since 1978 is to meet the needs of American Indians on campus and promote American Indian culture to the University of Minnesota campus. This includes many events like the Frybread Fridays, Ethel Curry Powwow and Winter Feast and Storytelling, among others.

Each speaker was passionate about their cause. Some were well spoken with prepared points while others spoke from the heart with no notes. One speaker asked how eliminating a cultural program would look to prospective students.

Betty Green, a member of the Native American Elders, said the AISCC “has the respect of the Council of Elders.”

Another asked to consider the consequences this decision will have on the AISCC.

If the AISCC doesn’t have a budget, Vargas doesn’t know what will happen.

“We will have to write grants,” he said. “It’s gonna be hard and inconvenient. Think about the message it sends. We will find a way to stay together.”

Not all of the advocates for the AISCC were members of the group. Some were from other cultural groups. La Raza, a Latino group, supported AISCC and sent out an email alerting its members of AISCC’s situation and urged members to attend.

Every campus organization participates in the budget process. The process includes projecting income and expenses for next year. Each organization submits an application that details its request for funding to the Student Group Fees Committee. AISCC failed to “complete the presentation requirement of the fees application process,” said the Student Services Fees Committee in denying money to the group. The presentation consists of highlighting work of the organization, how the proposed funding will help the organization and how the organization plans to improve in the next year.

AISCC said the meeting was missed because of personal issues throughout the group’s board members, including a death in the family and illness.

This year the budget was done in a new system. Many student groups had trouble getting the hang of it and that was a separate issue brought up in the forum. Even though there were training sessions for the new system, a speaker on behalf of another group felt that it was tough to get used to.

After an hour of speakers, Rinehart spoke with a slight smile to the speakers.

“It is a hard time of the year. You all don’t make it any easier being so articulate and passionate.”