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Zuni Pueblo Student Pursues Social Work

February 14, 2020

Photo of Kiara Zunie

Kiara Zunie
Photo by Ali Romero, University Relations

Las Vegas, N.M. – Kiara Zunie said her heritage as a member of the Zuni Pueblo motivated her to study social work at New Mexico Highlands University.

“I am a born  helper and raised on important morals my family taught me,” Zunie said. “Of the 13 Zuni morals I carry, the one ‘we will help one another’ weighs heavily on my decision making and ultimately my desire to be a social worker.”

Zunie, a 21-year-old social work junior minoring in psychology, grew up in the Zuni Pueblo in southwestern New Mexico. She said interning in the Zuni Department of Corrections helped solidify her goal to pursue social work to help her people as well as other neighboring tribes.

Zunie is born into the corn clan on her mother, Alicia Quam-Zunie’s, side. Zunie is born into the coyote clan on her father, Kevin Zunie’s, side.

Zunie said her Zuni heritage defines who she is as a person.

“Coming from a small rural community in the Zuni Pueblo, culture, tradition and heritage are of utmost importance to me. I came to Highlands very timid and got a bit of culture shock. I was shy about expressing my Zuni culture as a freshman, but later I fully embraced who I am and where I come from. Highlands gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell,” Zunie said.

Zunie said one way she expresses her Zuni heritage is through her artwork as a traditional Zuni clay pot maker.

“I wish to showcase the art that my ancestors utilized and passed down from generation to generation. I learned Zuni pottery traditions from my family and award-winning Zuni potters,” Zunie said.

Zunie was crowned Miss Native New Mexico Highlands University Queen in January 2020.

“I want to tell my fellow Native peers to never feel ashamed of expressing their culture, and that they are beautiful and unique,” said Zunie, who is a student worker at the Native American Center at Highlands.

Zunie has a number of goals for her reign as Miss Native New Mexico Highlands University Queen.

“I want to bring greater understanding of Native American cultures to Highlands. I also want to assist in advocating for higher education on tribal lands and other Indigenous communities in New Mexico,” Zunie said.

Zunie said that as a Native American student, she has received helpful assistance from Highlands.

“From the little to big issues, at Highlands there is always someone with advice, wisdom or support. All the educators and staff are friendly and encouraging. Choosing Highlands was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” Zunie said.

Zunie said social work professor Dolores Ortega played a key role in her education and professional aspirations.

“Dr. Ortega is a very inspiring woman who gave me the courage to be open and embrace who I am. She also motivated me to take the path to assist my Zuni community through social work. Dr. Ortega is so respectful and caring, reminding me a lot of my family back home. I find comfort in that,” Zunie said.

Ortega said that Zunie stands out as an outstanding example of the social work values and ethical principles that guide the profession.

“Coming from her Zuni traditions, Kiara’s educational focus in her work is to empower others,” Ortega said. “She wants to become visible in her own beloved Zuni community to address problems and difficulties unique to Native American populations.”