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Engelstads behind Sioux scholarship gif

The family of Ralph Engelstad is behind a $1 million Sioux scholarship endowment at the University of North Dakota, they announced this week.

The Engelstad Family Foundation released a statement that confirmed what many suspected since the scholarship was established in 2006.

The program provides full-ride scholarships to about four students who are enrolled members of Sioux tribes, with preference given to North Dakota's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake members.

The foundation initially remained anonymous because members did not want "issues that are totally irrelevant to the purpose of the scholarship" to cloud the goal of providing assistance to students, the statement said.

"There are no conditions relative to the UND name and logo associated with the Sioux scholarship endowment, nor any other gift made by the Engelstad Family Foundation through the UND Foundation to the University of North Dakota," the statement reads.

When the scholarship program was announced in 2006, some criticized it as a bribe to gain approval for the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

At the time, UND was considering a lawsuit against the NCAA over the NCAA's ruling that the nickname and logo are "hostile and abusive."

The settlement of that lawsuit requires support from the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake tribes by November 2010 if UND wants to continue using the nickname.

Leigh Jeanotte, director of American Indian Student Services, said he and a UND professor met with President Charles Kupchella when the program was being established and discouraged a scholarship specifically for Sioux students.

"We said yes, it's a good thing, but it should be for all (Native American) students, not just for Sioux tribes," Jeanotte said.

Every tribe has a need for financial aid, and some tribes have greater need than the Sioux tribes, Jeanotte said.

The scholarship requirements say if there are no qualified applicants who are Sioux, the award may be opened up to students from other underrepresented groups.

Students from the Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota have received the award, Jeanotte said.

The foundation donated $1.04 million - $1 million for the endowment and $40,000 to provide scholarships for the first year.

Interest from the endowment funds the scholarships, which have averaged about $5,000 to $6,000 a semester, depending on a student's need, said Laura Block, chief financial officer for the UND Foundation.

The scholarships cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board, Block said. The selection is based on financial need, academic achievement, community service and leadership.

The award is renewable for up to eight semesters as long as students meet academic and other requirements.

Three students received the scholarship this semester, Block said.

Four or five students have received it other semesters, she said.

The Engelstad Family Foundation also pledged $20 million to the UND Foundation in 2007 to support scholarships and endowed professorships.

Of that amount, $4 million is devoted to scholarships for students from underrepresented groups.

That announcement came two months after it became public that the Engelstad Family Foundation pledged to help fund the lawsuit with the NCAA.

It's unknown how much the foundation contributed.

Both Kupchella and Tim O'Keefe, executive director of the UND Foundation, have said the Engelstad Family Foundation's gifts did not come with any strings related to the Sioux nickname.

Engelstad, who died in 2002, was a UND goaltender and Las Vegas casino owner who funded the $104 million Ralph Engelstad Arena.

In 2001, Engelstad wrote a letter to Kupchella threatening to abandon construction on the arena if UND dropped the Fighting Sioux nickname.

One day later, the state Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to keep the nickname and logo.

Indians get 7% of UND scholarships

American Indian students received about 7 percent of all scholarships and tuition waivers awarded by the University of North Dakota this year.

Alice Hoffert, associate vice president for enrollment management, said 173 American Indian students received scholarships and/or tuition waivers, amounting to about $830,000.

About 400 American Indian students attend UND.

Leigh Jeanotte, director for American Indian Student Services, said there's a misperception that American Indians receive their education for free.

Tribes offer scholarships, but many do not have the funds to provide large amounts, Jeanotte said.

BJ Rainbow, a UND student and president of the UND Indian Association, said he receives $1,000 per semester from his tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, in addition to other financial aid.

But with a wife also in college and two children, Rainbow takes out loans to help pay for college. He anticipates he'll have $45,000 or more in loan debt when he graduates in December.

"Our students are indebted just like everyone else," Jeanotte said.

Overall, UND awarded $11.3 million in scholarships and tuition waivers this year to nearly 3,600 students, Hoffert said.