For the past four years, Serna, 22, has lived in two worlds: The wide-open, rural Gila River Indian Community, where her parents and siblings live, and the bustling Arizona State University campus in Tempe, where she majored in American Indian studies and public policy.
Traditionally, most tribal members stayed on the reservation, multiple generations living in family groups. But new money, much of it from Indian gaming, is changing that.
Today, about 20 percent of the 22,000 registered members of the Gila River tribes live off the reservation. More than 400 attend community colleges and universities, mostly in Arizona.
Their educations are largely financed by the Gila River tribal government, which gives scholarships to anyone seeking a college education. The community has nearly $7 million set aside for the college education of its members — a dramatic increase from the $400,000 of tribal money available in 1997, according to tribal officials.
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