NAU Funds $10 Million To Prioritize Indigenous People in Curriculum, Recruitment

NAU Funds $10 Million To Prioritize Indigenous People in Curriculum, Recruitment

By Corinne Murdock |

Northern Arizona University (NAU) pledged $10 million to prioritize Indigenous people in their curriculum, or “indigenize” it. The funds will build up the Seven Generations Signature Initiative (7SGI) for the next three years starting this spring. 

$5 million of the funding comes from the Mellon Foundation, a New York-based grantmaking nonprofit; the other half came from the NAU Foundation (NAUF). NAU classifies Indigenous peoples as Native Americans/American Indians), Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, Native Pacific Islanders, and other global Indigenous peoples. 

The funding will back development of an Indigenous-focused open educational resources initiative; increase recruitment of faculty advancing Indigenous-focused scholarship; establishment of a new center for Indigenous “knowledge holders,” partners, artists, and tribal leaders; and expansion of a Indigenous-focused housing program that serves around 150 students, or .5 percent of the student population. 

According to NAU data, there were just over 900 students (3.2 percent) who identified solely as Indigenous. 841 students (2.9 percent) identified as Native American or Alaskan Native, while 68 students (0.2 percent) identified as Native Hawaiian or Native Pacific Islander.

With multiple races factored, over 1,900 students (6.7 percent) identified as Indigenous. Over 1,500 (5.3 percent) identified as Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiians, or Native Pacific Islander.

In a press release last month, NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera expressed hope that the university would become the national leader in service to Indigenous people. 

“The breadth of this $10 million Seven Generations Signature Initiative demonstrates how NAU has infused its commitment to Indigenous Peoples into all our work, from leading scholarship and meaningful engagement to student belonging and success,” said Rivera. 

Lena Fowler, NAU Indigenous Advisory Board chair, said that this $10 million funding would ensure that the university was a “home-away-from-home” for Indigenous students. 

Armando Bengochea Mellon Foundation senior program officer said that indigenizing the curriculum was “bold, inspiring, and necessary.” 

NAU derived 7SGI after producing their roadmap for the next several years, “NAU 2025 – Elevating Excellence,” which focuses mainly on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The roadmap made a specific commitment to expand the focus on Indigenous students, faculty, and staff. 

Specifically, the roadmap promised to establish Indigenous-specific pre-college pathways and recruitment, culturally responsive programming and pedagogy, and campus environments to increase Indigenous enrollment and retention. It also promised to implement equitable, not equal, efforts to recruit, retain, and support Indigenous faculty and staff. Equity orchestrates exact equal outcomes, while equality affords equal resources or opportunities.

Under this roadmap so far, NAU also funded thousands for a project expanding “Indigenous Pathways to a PhD in STEM-H.” The university is currently processing further proposals under its $1 million second call for proposals. Awards will be announced in April. 

NAU also expanded its initiative affording free tuition to Native Americans from any of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes last November, regardless of household income. However, non-Native American applicants are only eligible for free tuition if they’re first-time undergraduate students with a family income of $65,000 a year or less.

The decision to prioritize Native American Arizonans over non-Native American Arizonans reflects NAU’s commitment to equity over equality.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to