TAHLEQUAH – With the help of a prestigious scholarship, two Cherokee Nation citizens have begun their studies at Northeastern State University in pursuit of their careers.
Natalie and Nathan Armstrong are twins, homeschooled 2021 high school graduates, and attending NSU with the assistance of the Cobell Scholarship. The award is described on its website as “competitive, merit first then need based, non-renewable and available to any post-secondary (after high school) student who is an enrolled member of a US Federally-Recognized Tribe, enrolled in full-time study and is degree seeking.”
The scholarship is named after Elouise Cobell (Blackfoot), who was the lead plaintiff in the Cobell v. Salazar case that challenged the United States mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 Native Americans. The case was eventually settled for $3.4 billion.
The Armstrong siblings were also given the American Indian Science and Engineering Society 3M Scholarship and the Tea La Gi Trail of Tears Award, along with merit-based scholarships from NSU and CN College Resources. They each entered NSU with 4.0 GPAs and 24 hours of concurrent credit, and were chosen to participate in the 2021 Kakehashi Inouye exchange program funded by the U.S. Japan Council.
“I am always grateful for the generous financial support I am given,” Natalie said. “I was very happy and grateful when I got the Cobell Scholarship because it is a big scholarship that offers a lot of money. It is also a fairly difficult scholarship to fill out with many, many different questions I had to answer. If I did not have the support of my family, the Cobell Scholarship and its application process may have intimidated me too much to actually apply.”
Nathan also was grateful for his Cobell Scholarship award.
“Scholarships like this one will make a huge difference to me in completing my education,” Nathan said. “Not only is the Cobell Scholarship covering nearly a third of my tuition and fees this year, but it also boosted my confidence as a student because it is such a tough scholarship to get.”
Natalie deals with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and muscular dystrophy, which she says were factors in her selection of NSU. Navigating a giant campus would have presented difficulties for her. She is now a double major in speech and language pathology, and Spanish. She hopes to also study abroad, and enjoys writing and art. She wants to be a bilingual speech and language pathologist.
“Mostly, I just want to be able to help people,” Natalie said. “I want to feel like I’m making some sort of difference in the lives of individuals. That’s one reason I decided to double major. Few speech and language pathologists in the U.S. are fluent in a language other than English, though the need is growing. I have studied Japanese, Spanish and a little bit of Cherokee so far, and plan to study more.”
NSU was attractive to Nathan due to its proximity to home and its smaller size. He was already familiar with the campus and had met professors and instructors. He wants to be a pediatric psychiatrist.
“I want to help the kids in my area, especially within the Cherokee Nation,” Nathan said. “I have volunteered time with foster kids in Cherokee Nation placements, and I have seen firsthand that there is a problem with kids being raised in homes affected by drugs and abuse. Children need access to specialists in mental health, and there are not enough of those to go around.”
Both siblings expressed their gratitude to family, Indigenous Education Inc. – through which the Cobell Scholarship is awarded – and AISES 3M, but they also pointed to services offered by CN.
“I first really got excited about going into medical school after attending an Operation Orange camp hosted in Tahlequah by the Cherokee Nation,” Nathan said. “After attending the Cherokee College Prep Institute before my junior year of high school, I realized the importance of pursuing scholarships to help pay for college. I used concurrent enrollment scholarships from the Cherokee Nation to complete 24 hours of college credits before entering school as a freshman this year.”
Natalie also got her concurrent enrollment credit through the CN program.
“With their help, I was able to start my freshman year of college as essentially a sophomore,” she said. “I got many of my general education requirements out of the way first, so I could immediately jump into my majors. This was extremely helpful, because with my career plan, it looks as if I'm going to have to attend college past four years.”
Nathan and Natalie also said they have always been proud of their Cherokee lineage.
“It has affected me in ways one might not immediately expect,” Natalie said. “Growing up in the Cherokee Nation, I never found seeing Native American culture as strange or exotic. Being surrounded by other Cherokees, I thought of them as normal people, just like me. I feel like that has helped me be more inclusive and less judgmental of people in a way.”
Nathan said life in Tahlequah always made him recognize his part in the general Cherokee community.
“Many of my field trips and activities centered around Cherokee heritage,” he said. “I spent a lot of time with my elders, listening to stories of what life was like here long before I was born. I want to be a part of making life better for the kids that come after me. I want them to feel connected and supported, too.”