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What began as a partnership among Southern Oregon University and community organizations to see Indigenous Peoples’ Day instituted at SOU and in the City of Ashland a number of years ago has continued to evolve into further advocacy for Native people. Representatives of the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland signed documents this week to establish a three-year scholarship commitment for Native students and the university’s Native American Studies Program.
The scholarship agreement is a collaboration by Dennis Slattery, an associate professor of business at SOU and First Presbyterian elder; Brook Colley, chair of the SOU Native American Studies Program; the Rev. Dan Fowler of First Presbyterian; and the SOU Foundation’s Cristina Sanz. The amount of the scholarship will be driven by congregants’ donations, but it will start at $2,000 per year.
“Dennis and I worked together to build a coalition for recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on campus and in the community a number of years ago, and we continue to work on building opportunities for our various communities,” Colley said. “Today, we take another step, and I am very happy to sign a letter of commitment with the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland for scholarship support of the SOU Native American Studies Program.”
Fowler, the church’s minister, said the scholarship fund represents an opportunity for his congregation to be more than symbolic in its support of Native American people.
“We honor the fact that the land our church sits upon is the ancestral land of people who were here long before us,” he said. “We recently installed a plaque in our church with a land acknowledgment recognizing this. However, the plaque we placed upon the sanctuary is meaningless unless it includes some kind of action. The scholarship for Native American Studies is one action of many we hope to do. We pray for healing and reconciliation. We pray in time that Indigenous people would come to see us as an ally.”
Slattery credited the “team effort” that resulted in the scholarship and said the incremental approach will allow church members to grow into their new role in helping Native American students.
“Everyone pitched in to make it all happen, from the Foundation to Brook and her program to the church’s board,” Slattery said. “This is a humble effort. We look to encourage others to take these kinds of small steps – many small steps will lead to something big. We can’t just talk about recognizing or honoring Native peoples, we need to also act. This is a step in that direction, one of many we hope to accomplish in the future.”
The underlying purpose of the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland’s partnership with SOU’s Native American Studies Program is to show and provide support for NAS Students. The church acknowledges a need to do more – to continue to work on equity matters for Native communities and to provide ever greater access for Native people to higher education.
Those who are interested in establishing a scholarship of any kind may contact the SOU’s Foundation office.