Tiffany Santana on raising the profile of Native Americans on and off campus

Two women with dark hair. Woman on right wears headdress.
Tiffany Santana, left, attends a protest at UC Berkeley with her sister.

Tiffany Santana, a financial services analyst at Haas, is shaking things up as treasurer of the UC Berkeley Native American Staff Council (NASC). Working with her executive team, she aims to expand the council’s mission to help address the inequities that Native American communities face on and off campus.

 “We want to launch initiatives and push for policies that create more equitable outcomes for Native American communities, in addition to letting the campus know that we exist,” said Santana, who joined NASC a year ago.

Native American students make up about two percent of Berkeley undergrads. Among NASC’s proposed initiatives are recruiting more Native American students; creating college scholarships to help fund their education; paying a portion of students’ debts; working with admissions offices campus-wide to hire admission counselors to recruit Native American students; and educating the campus and public about issues concerning Native American communities.

While UC Berkeley has worked towards creating more awareness about Native American issues and the societal structures that impact their communities, more work needs to be done, she said. 

For Santana, serving on the council allows her to engage in social activism, bond with other Native Americans on campus, and connect with her Native roots. 

A descendant of the Esselen Tribe, Santana said she didn’t grow up with a deep connection to her heritage. “My uncle, whom I consider my dad, introduced me to my culture when I relocated from Fresno to Oakland to live with him,” she said.

Woman holds large drum
Tiffany Santana and her father attends a march in Downtown Oakland.

By the time she was 12, Santana started participating in sweat lodges, spirit runs, and Aztec dancing. She learned about the history of her tribe, which has origins in Monterey County, along with the long-term effects of colonialism, and federal and state policies that damaged Native communities. These experiences ignited her inner social activist and led her to serve on the board of the NASC.

As treasurer, Santana is working to find funding to carry out initiatives and collaborates with staff groups across campus. She’s already making headway with one of her goals. 

Earlier this month, the NASC partnered with Alianza and the Black Staff and Faculty Organization to organize a virtual networking event for Berkeley staff. The NASC also co-hosted and participated in other events this month to commemorate Native American Heritage Month, including a socially-distanced pow wow and film screenings. 

Personally, Santana plans to become an enrolled member of her tribe, strengthen ties with fellow tribe members, and share her personal story with others.

“My story is not just mine or my family’s,” Santana said. “It’s yours, it’s Haas’, it’s Oakland’s. My story belongs to the community.”