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Desert Companion

The other natives: Helping Native Americans succeed

To most of us, November means a big turkey, loud relatives and deathlike, tryptophan-induced slumbers in the easy chair. However, it's also Native American Heritage Month. And to the local Native American community, its future is just as important as its heritage. That's where organizations such as UNLV's federally funded TRIO (it's the name, not an acronym) figure in, helping Native Americans enter college. After all, Native American graduation rates from UNLV lag behind other the rates of minorities at 26.9 percent. And college enrollment isn't much better.

"Enrollment in secondary education is the lowest compared with other minorities," says Kyle Ethelbah, adult educational services director with UNLVs Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach. "We need to focus on higher education enrollment, graduation and retention. Once students get here, they need to stay."

Ethelbah should know. He's member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, as well as a product of the TRIO program, which helps first-generation students, adults and minorities apply for college.

"Without TRIO, I would not have had the skills to apply for financial aid," he says. Last year, TRIO joined with another federally funded program to help more than 24,000 underprivileged Clark County high school students graduate and apply to college. And college is about more than just landing a good job. For Native Americans, success also means higher visibility and a way of promoting and preserving their unique culture.

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"In K-12, many cultures are reduced to one paragraph in history class," says Christopher Kypuros, faculty advisor to UNLV's Native American Student Association. "Higher education provides a new universe for students seeking to preserve their culture. ... Native students are serious about their education. The majority are educated and proud of their heritage. Native people are still here and are moving forward."