Free tuition for Indigenous people to public universities across Pennsylvania? A bill is on the way

The exterior of The Pennsylvania Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol is pictured in a file photo. (Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

State Rep. Chris Rabb first introduced a bill in 2018 to formally abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday. In fact, he’s since done it two times — and Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state Legislature has batted down each attempt.

While the Philadelphia Democrat intends to do so again in the next legislative session, Rabb is planning to debut a new bill during Native American Heritage Month in November.

“We have to look at what are ways that we can view redress in reparations for Indigenous peoples and part of that should include a free tuition to public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth — and so that’s a bill I’ll be working on,” Rabb said.

He didn’t share the specifics, but Rabb said that it is even more important to raise awareness about the bills.

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“I think this is important, because how we treat our most marginalized says a lot about where we are as a nation. And frankly, if you’re not able to acknowledge as an elected official or as a citizen that we are on stolen land and this country has been built with stolen labor, we’re not really ready to move forward, that we are essentially living in fiction at the expense of shared prosperity, and justice,” Rabb said.

Rabb put forth legislation earlier this month that would halt the use of Pennsylvania trademarks by non-Native American groups to claim Indigenous patterns, tribal names, cultural heritage, and intellectual property.

Another piece of legislation that Rabb introduced would help schools looking to voluntarily drop their Native American mascots, logos, school or team names through a grant program. Last year, he authored a bill that sought to prohibit the use of Indigenous symbols by public schools.

“There are over 60 schools across the Commonwealth that still have derogatory names and imagery — that are relics of the past that should have never been put up to begin with. But this struggle really relates to the interconnectedness of our fates, and how we’re not free until we’re all free. This is the work,” Rabb said.

Rabb is consulting with community stakeholders such as tribal leaders to sharpen some of the legislation before it is assigned a bill number. However, he is well aware of the uphill battle and time required to turn the bills into law.

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He said he has done it before.

“Every term, I reintroduce them and try to get more support,” Rabb said.

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