Student works toward leaving an impact post-graduation

October 29, 2021

Headshot of Kiara Tantaquidgeon

The Indigenous Student Union wasn’t always so — but thanks to the efforts of a passionate and driven student, it has grown to have a dominant voice in the Bobcat community.

Kiara Tantaquidgeon '21, a health science studies major with an independent minor in indigenous cultures/diversity studies, grew up on the border of Uncasville, Connecticut near the Mohegan reservation with her mom and dad who was a Mohegan tribal member.

“I spent a lot of my life with my great grandparents learning native traditions and stories,” said Tantaquidgeon. “I went to a camp just for tribal kids when I was younger and learned native history and culture throughout my entire childhood, participated in archery, learned how to bead, basket, drum and dance.”

Despite her vast knowledge of her culture, she found herself questioning her identity as she went to a private school off the reservation.

“It contradicted everything I learned. I learned a white-washed version of history that just didn’t make sense, I was learning two different things,” said Tantaquidgeon.

Her grandparents gave her “the talk” eventually and explained that she was going to learn things that were invalidating and frustrating. She was never told what she should do about it, only that she was going to face it.

“You need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and that’s kind of what is expected of you,” Tantaquidgeon said. “I remember going to school and getting really internally frustrated and not feeling like I had an outlet to do anything about it.”

As she got older and her elder family started to pass away, she found it increasingly more difficult to hold onto and embrace her native identity.

“Everyone in high school knew my last name, it was like I was the token native student everywhere I went,” said Tantaquidgeon. “People in high school questioned my background and invalidated my existence."

During her senior year of high school, a teacher asked her to create a Native American students club in which she said "yes," but this came with the responsibility and expectation to educate others, which required a lot of time and effort.

“I got into Cornell and wanted to go there because it had a native community, but I deferred acceptance for a year and started at Quinnipiac for personal reasons,” said Tantaquidgeon. “I ended up staying because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the community the way it was, uneducated when it came to indigenous people."

She explained that she wanted native students to feel comfortable at Quinnipiac and not hide in the crowd or pretend that they aren't who they are because they fear being accepted. That's why she founded the Indigenous Student Union.

“I worked with Sean Duffy, Hillary Haldane and library staff because I longed for a sense of community,” said Tantaquidgeon. “I sat with campus life to figure out how to start the union with the help of Gabriella Colello, e-board member, and Rania Bensadok, secretary of the union.”

The process, beginning in the Fall of 2019, ended during the Fall of 2020. The union now has a table at the involvement fair, has added a PR position to their board, a treasurer position and an event-planning position.

“I’m doing this now so that future native students don’t have to. I know it’s hard, but I am going to keep doing it, but on my terms. I’m going to say no when I need to and delegate when I need to.”

Tantaquidgeon, having reclaimed her narrative, explained that she is proud of the accomplishment so if the union and is happy to have seen it grow so much and build relationships with other student-run organizations like the Student Government Association.

“There are things students can do even when they feel like they can’t. They can educate themselves and support ISU by coming to events and becoming a voice for students that don’t have as prominent of one on campus.”

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