ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Indian Graduate Center has received a generous $20 million gift of unrestricted funds from MacKenzie Scott (formerly Bezos). The AIGC is the largest provider of scholarships to Native American students seeking higher education in all 50 states.
Scott is recently divorced from Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. In 2019, Scott committed to giving away part of her fortune, which is estimated to be nearly $60 billion.
"Like many, I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror," she wrote in a post on Medium.
"I began work to complete my pledge with the belief that my life had yielded two assets that could be of particular value to others: the money these systems helped deliver to me, and a conviction that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions," she added.
Fortunately, the AIGC made her list of worthy causes.
The donation could not be more timely as Indian Country has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, AIGC worked with key stakeholders and donors to redirect funds to the emergent needs of scholars impacted by university closings. Since then, the Center has also funded relief efforts such as food and supply distributions directly to tribal communities, some of which were organized by AIGC scholars themselves.
“This generous gift truly exemplifies the humanity, compassion, and unity that still exists in the world today. At a time when we are all experiencing a racial justice awakening and the severe health concerns impacting our country, this gift reminds us that we are more connected than ever,” said Angelique Albert, the organization’s executive director, in a statement. “One of the greatest gifts a person can give is access to education, and this gift will provide that for thousands of Native scholars and transform the landscape of higher education for Native people. The impact of this gift, not only on Native students but on Indian Country as a whole, is so profound that we will feel its effects for generations to come.”
Since its founding 50 years ago, the AIGC has empowered 16,000 students from more than 500 tribes in all 50 states by providing individual scholarships with amounts ranging from $250 to $30,000 annually, as well as offering support through academic advisors that work to connect students with their campus resources and other services.
Scholars enrolled in AIGC programs graduate at significantly higher rates than the national average for Native students. Scott’s unrestricted funding honors the expertise of AIGC leadership, allowing those working closest to the issue to manage the gift’s distribution in the most effective way for Native student recipients, an approach which is in alignment with Scott’s core philanthropic values.
In 1969, there were only 38 American Indian attorneys, 15 Native doctoral students and 30 Native medical doctors. As of 2019, the AIGC has contributed to more than 2,000 law degrees, 1,700 postgraduate degrees and 450 medical degrees for Native students.
With this generous donation, the organization is committed to realizing its mission and vision of fulfilling the unmet need of every Native American student.