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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 17, 2001 - Issue 49


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UTA Reaches Out to American Indians


 by Jan Jarvis Star-Telegram Staff Writer - November 10, 2001

ARLINGTON - Michael Palmer, the new First Nations counselor for the University of Texas at Arlington, wants the campus to be as comfortable for Native American students as home.

"I want to welcome the American Indian community onto campus," said Palmer, a Native American and the first person to hold the part-time position. "I want to support Native American students and make sure their needs are met."

Palmer, 37, is a designated supporter for UT-Arlington's 150 students who identify themselves as Native Americans, a figure up 8 percent from 2000. His job title refers to the nations that were in the Americas first, people who had established traditions and governmental structures long before Columbus "discovered" the New World.

Palmer's goal is to position the campus as a place known for the scholastic activities of its Native American students, as much as their cultural activities.

UT-Arlington has one of the longest-running Native American Student Associations around, said Kenneth Roemer, faculty adviser to the 7-year-old organization.

"We would like this place to be identified in North Texas as a place where American Indian students are welcomed," he said.

Kent Gardner, vice president for student affairs, said the position was created to meet a need in the community for a contact that Native Americans could turn to for assistance.

In the past, UT-Arlington has worked with minority students, Palmer said. But there has never been a designated minority representative for any one group. He knows of no other school in North Texas that has a First Nations counselor.

Palmer said that he is trying to show high school students the benefits of going to college.

"Historically there is a tendency for American Indian students to be diverted into blue-collar labor positions," he said.

Gilbert Smith, a Native American from Grand Prairie, said he would like to see other colleges reach out to his community.

"Having someone that students know is here for them helps a lot," he said. "I've talked to people at other colleges, and they don't even have an American Indian association."

Poverty is among the factors that may discourage members of American Indian communities from pursuing higher education, Palmer said.

"Everybody assumes American Indians can go to college for free, but that's just not true," he said. "It depends on which tribal affiliation they are enrolled in, and even then the vast majority of tribal organizations don't have scholarships."

The Native American community in this area is small but cohesive, Palmer said.

Tarrant County's American Indian population was 5,971 last year, according to the Census Bureau. Dallas County's population was 8,106.

Palmer, who grew up in Texas, began exploring his Cherokee heritage several years ago. His family's heritage was not hidden, but it was not celebrated either, he said.

"As I got older, learned more about the family tree, I really felt a strong desire to reconnect with that part of my heritage," he said.

The Native American Student Association is located at the University of Texas at Arlington, in Arlington, TX. We have meetings every Friday, during Spring and Fall semesters, at noon in the San Jacinto room (2nd floor) of the University Center.

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