NAU commits $10M grant to implement initiatives focused on success of Indigenous students

By: - February 3, 2023 1:03 pm

Photo via Northern Arizona University | Instagram

Northern Arizona University has committed funding to implement several new initiatives across campus to help Indigenous students, promote traditional knowledge and establish partnerships with tribal entities.

The Seven Generations Signature Initiative (7GSI) will present seven strategic priorities for the next several years, NAU President José Luis Cruz Rivera told the Arizona Mirror. 

Rivera added that these initiatives would build on NAU’s reputation in serving Indigenous students and communities to make NAU a national  leader and show how the school prioritizes its commitment to Indigenous people.


NAU received a $5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, matched by an additional $5 million investment from the Northern Arizona University Foundation (NAUF), to develop and implement the 7GSI.

The effort comprises a portfolio of initiatives that will build on existing areas of excellence and elevate NAU’s impact as one of the nation’s leading universities serving Indigenous peoples. 

“Over the next three years, NAU will launch exceptional programs and initiatives that amplify Indigenous voices and perspectives and contribute to student success,” said Ann Marie Chischilly, the vice president for Native American Initiatives at NAU. “I’m excited to be a part of these efforts that will deliver on the university’s commitment to Indigenous Peoples and serve as a model for others throughout the country.”

The initiative’s launch is coupled with NAU’s recent announcement to expand the Access2Excellence tuition commitment for members of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes.

“The Access2Excellence initiative basically guarantees that we will cover the cost of tuition for all students who are admitted to and who come from one of the 22 federally recognized tribes,” Rivera said. 

The initiatives in 7GSI will include elevating Indigenous scholarship, strengthening partnerships and propelling Indigenous student success.

Chischilly said that NAU had laid a foundation that has opened the doors for tribes and Indigenous people from Arizona and across the country to come and study, which will help them and eventually help their communities and people.

As part of this initiative, Chischilly said NAU wants to develop an Indigenous people’s general education requirement. The goal is that, by 2025, students at NAU can look at a course that’s Indigenous peoples based.

Through this initiative, NAU will work with faculty and national experts to develop Indigenous Peoples’ Open Educational Resources (OER). According to NAU, the OER materials focused on Indigenous peoples will be developed and create a repository for faculty to use in courses across the country. 

“It’s a unique way of including indigenous knowledge throughout the entire curriculum of NAU,” Chischilly said.

NAU will also launch an intentional program of early- and mid-career faculty recruitment efforts to strengthen and develop the university’s community of scholars whose work focuses on Indigenous perspectives and knowledge across academic disciplines.

“NAU’s new and comprehensive initiatives to begin indigenizing curricula across the board, as well as to expand its faculty who can teach Native topics, is bold, inspiring, and necessary,” said Armando Bengochea, senior program officer for Higher Learning at Mellon. “It is an institution increasingly primed for making great impacts on Native communities and Native knowledge.”

Another step in this initiative is for NAU to develop a hub for Indigenous peoples known as the Seven Generations Indigenous Knowledge Center (7Gen Center). 

The center will focus on providing a space to bring together Indigenous knowledge holders, partners, artists and tribal leaders to enrich and add depth to education, scholarship and artistic endeavors.

Rivera said NAU works to serve indigenous students regardless of their state of residence. One way they do that is through the Indigenous Peoples Living-Learning Community (IPLLC), and through the initiative, services at the center will be expanded.

The living-learning center serves more than 150 students, according to the university, and it’s a space that cultivates a sense of belonging, builds cultural connections and supports the academic success of Indigenous students at NAU.

The center allows Indigenous students to come together and “cultivate a sense of belonging, affirm their identities and build community so that they can be better equipped to navigate their years at NAU,” Rivera said.

The work of the Seven Generations Signature Initiative will begin in the spring at NAU.

“NAU is doing incredible work to truly be a home-away-from-home for Indigenous students in Arizona and beyond,” said Lena Fowler, chair of NAU’s Native American Advisory Board. “With the Seven Generations Signature Initiative, that work is being elevated.”


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues.