Each November, we commemorate Native American Heritage Month by acknowledging and recognizing the heritage and contributions (past, present and future) of Native and Indigenous people. However, the various ways in which our Native/Indigenous students impact Berkeley extend well beyond a particular month or day. These students’ multifaceted experiences not only help to inform their individual identities, but also help build a more culturally-responsive campus community.

Sierra Hampton headshot

Sierra Hampton

Ph.D. Student, ESPM in College of Natural Resources

Hailing from Calaveras County, California where she is member of Chickasaw Nation, Sierra Hampton is currently an Indigenous Berkeley graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in the College of Natural Resources. It is through connection and engagement that she has found a safe and supportive community. Her participation with the Indigenous Graduate Student Association (IGSA) and Native Community Center helped her connect with other Indigenous students on campus to build community wellness, which has proved essential when facing both academic and personal challenges. 

Within her department, Sierra has found strength in the increasing diversity of students from different backgrounds and experiences and strong support from staff willing to go the extra mile. “My department is very supportive, and the people are great company,” she shared. “I’ve found colleagues to go on hikes with or go birdwatching or go to the beach. Folks who really make life a joy.”

After reflecting on the impact representation had on her own student experience, Sierra felt compelled to pay it forward by co-founding Real Talk Buddies, a mentoring program matching undergraduates and graduates with shared backgrounds as a tool for navigating the inevitable challenges that accompany college life.

“I think it’s important to remember too that while you’re a student, you’re not just completing your studies. If you’re truly engaged, you are often involved in issues of right or wrong, battling to make the campus a better place in the way that your capabilities allow.” – Sierra Hampton, Ph.D. Student, ESPM in College of Natural Resources

Sierra HamptonPh.D. Student, ESPM in College of Natural Resources  

For Sierra, it’s essential that her graduate experience not only influences the trajectory of her life, but others as well. Whether that happens through her participation in campus organizations, mentoring, or honoring her heritage through every day acts of resurgence, Sierra’s impact will be intentional. “I want to be able to look back on my time as a student and say that I contributed to a better experience for others.”

Morino Baca headshot

Morino Baca

Masters Student, School of Public Health

Growing up in the inner city of East San Jose, California, Morino Baca didn’t know much about the traditional cultural ways of his family’s history, which often made him feel like an outsider. Now a UC Berkeley graduate student pursuing a Master’s of Public Health, Morino is intentional about reclaiming his Native identity. 

After noticing a lack of representation across campus, both in athletics and academics, Morino became involved with Native/Indigenous campus organizations like the Native American Student Development office (NASD) and the American Indian Graduate Program (AIGP). Morino also works with the Office for Graduate Diversity as a Diversity and Community Fellow, helping to support a more inclusive graduate community and enhancing the overall experience of historically underrepresented students like himself at Berkeley.

 “I aim to be involved with and a part of as many community events as possible and to be an example for other Native people who might come from similar situations as my own,” said Morino.  

Beyond the challenges of belonging, Morino also faces unique pressure as a student parent. As the first person in his family to pursue an advanced degree, Morino has faced many roadblocks, including financial, that have made his path to degree completion much more arduous. But with his children and family on his mind, Morino continues to push past adversity by keeping his ultimate goal at the forefront.

“Knowing that I represent such a unique perspective allows me to fight even harder to do well and achieve as much as I can while I’m here.”

Morino BacaMasters Student, School of Public Health 

Regardless of his triumphs and tribulations, Morino is intentional about his role in representing his community. “Part of this is to give back and be an example for incoming and prospective students who might see themselves on this campus; to be that example that they can achieve what they set out to achieve.”

Both Morino and Sierra’s graduate student experiences reflect an essential need for continued growth in cultural inclusiveness and representation. Programs like Real Talk Buddies, the Indigenous Graduate Student Association and the American Indian Graduate Program (AIGP) were developed to support overlapping diversity and belonging efforts, as well as intersectional views of native students and mentorship. 

“I am excited to work with and support the efforts of Morino and Sierra in the roles they fulfill across campus,” shared AIGP Executive Director, Patrick Naranjo. “Ultimately, I look forward to learning from their experiences to better structure mentorship capacity on behalf of AIGP to meet the specific needs of our Native/Indigenous students.”

Land Acknowledgement
We recognize that UC Berkeley sits on the territory of xučyun (Huichin), the original landscape of the Chochenyo speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. Read our full land acknowledgement on the Centers for Educational Justice & Community Engagement website.