Wenona Singel addressing Michigan Indian tirbal leaders at the United Tribes of Michigan on Mackinac Island. Native News Online photographs by Levi Rickert
Published October 3, 2019
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Michigan Indian tribal leaders convening on Mackinac Island received great news on Thursday during their meeting of the United Tribes of Michigan $12.7 million has been earmarked in State of Michigan’s 2019-2020 budget to fully fund the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver (MITW) program.
Wenona Singel (Little Traverse Bay Bands of the Odawa Indians), deputy legal counsel serving in Office of the Governor, State of Michigan, announced Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the budget that signed the state budget on October 1, 2019 to fund the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver.
United Tribes of Michigan Executive Director Frank Ettawageshik.
The MITW is a program enacted by Public Act 174 of 1976, which waives the tuition costs for eligible Native Americans in public community colleges or universities within Michigan. Up until 1995, the MITW was fully funded so that public state institutions will be reimbursed by the State of Michigan for tuition for Native American students who fulfilled the requirements. In 1995, then Michigan Governor John Engler sought to eliminate the program, but the state legislature overrode the governor’s decision with inadquate funding.
In 1998, the legislature added the tuition waiver to the base budgets for Michigan universities but froze the appropriations at the 1998 levels. Despite efforts throughout the years for supplemental increases, appropriations remain at levels from over 20 years ago. The impact was to under-reimburse universities and colleges for the tuition they waived in honoring the enacting legislation.
According to Chairperson Aaron Payment, this “short-changed Michigan universities like Lake Superior State University (LSSU) to the tune of about $350,000 to $400,000 a year. This unfunded mandate needed to be addressed, so I joined forces with the late Dr. Tom Pleger and the United Tribes of Michigan to push for full funding. I am excited to report that the overall appropriations nearly doubled, bringing the new amount to over $12.5 million, which represents a new annual windfall $400,000 for LSSU.”
Tribal leaders have fought since the mid-1990s to have the program fully funded. After her election last November, Governor Whitmer made a commitment to tribal leaders she would put the MITW in her budget. She did so when she submitted her budget in February and several state legislators worked to fund MITW.
Aaron Payment, president of United Tribes of Michigan and tribal chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
“The Governor recognizes the importance of the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver to Native students.” Singel told tribal leaders at Thursday’s meeting.
The Michigan state budget is $59 billion.
Below are MITW requirements for Native American students:
To be eligible for the MITW, you must meet the following criteria:
- Qualify for admission at one of Michigan’s public colleges or universities AND
- Be ¼ or more Native American blood quantum as certified by your Tribal Enrollment Department AND
- Are an enrolled citizen of a U.S. Federally Recognized Tribe as certified by your Tribal Enrollment Department AND
- Be a legal resident of the state of Michigan for not less than 12 consecutive months.
You must provide the following with your MITW application.
- A photocopy of your Michigan Driver’s License or state-issued Michigan Identification Card;
- A photocopy of your Tribal ID.
PROOF OF RESIDENCY – Your MITW residency status does not determine your residency status at your institution. Your institution may require additional documentation as proof of residency or to determine your length of residency in Michigan.
You must submit this application to your Tribal Enrollment Department for certification and signature.
The Tribal Enrollment Department is certifying that the you, the student, are ¼ or more Native American blood quantum and an enrolled citizen of a U.S. Federally Recognized Tribe. The Tribal Enrollment Department may submit this form and accompanying documents on your behalf to Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) for verification.
The statute does not limit tuition waiver eligibility based upon full/part-time status, degree track, academic performance, or similar criteria – and such information will not affect MDCR verification.