SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: DeCoteau embraces her culture to reach her full potential

MINOT, N.D. – Kajia DeCoteau grew up in Belcourt on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. She was raised Catholic and attended Turtle Mountain Community High School.

It wasn’t until she came to Minot State that she was able to reconnect with her culture.

“Leaving the reservation, a place I lived my whole life, and coming to Minot was somewhat a culture shock for me,” she said. “A friend who had already been at Minot State for a year introduced me to Annette Mennem (Native American Culture Center director) and showed me around the center. Annette has been an amazing support system throughout my undergrad journey. If it wasn't for her, I am not sure how far I would have made it. It was a place away from home but with academic support.”

Minot State helped DeCoteau feel seen and included as an Indigenous person, which eventually brought her into the position of vice president of the Native American Cultural Club in 2020.

One thing that was very special to DeCoteau was her ability to be a part of the MSU Spring Honor Dance and Powwow hosted on campus.

“We weren’t taught to go to the powwows when I was growing up. We still went, but it wasn’t something that was heavily influenced on us. It’s super important to me to reconnect, and being at a powwow is super emotional to me. It brings a lot of emotions out of me, almost an unexplainable feeling,” she said.

Mennem also had a realization talking to DeCoteau about her experience with the reservations.

“It took me leaving the reservation to find out about us. I was the first person to not go to boarding school and I get that,” Mennem said. “I learned a lot in moving away. The idea of the boarding school was to kill the Indian to save the man, so when our young people were taken to boarding schools, they were forbidden to speak their language, do their ceremonies, dress their wear, nothing.”

Similarly for DeCoteau, she was very grateful to meet Mennem, and through her experiences at MSU, has been able to accomplish many life goals that she would have never been able to do without the help of her mentor.

“I am a first-generation high school and college graduate. I want to show others that they can be in my position and still be successful. Native American students drop out at a higher rate than any other student. I’m a success story, I persevered, I’m a single mother who transitioned from a community college to Minot State,” she said. “I had a lot of hardships to get where I’m at, and to show my family that I did it was super important to me. I want to inspire others who are like me trying to navigate higher education. I want them to see that they’re able to do it too.”

Mennem helped celebrate DeCoteau during the 2022 powwow’s recognition of graduates and cannot wait to see what she will do with her future. She sees a familiar passion in DeCoteau as she saw in her younger self.

“She’ll probably be sitting in my chair someday,” Mennem said.

After DeCoteau graduates with her degree in social work, she plans to take the summer off to spend time with her daughter and apply for grad school for the fall semester. She plans to get her master’s in clinical social work.

“My main goal has always been to work with marginalized communities or Indigenous students. I would really like to give back to my community or any community in Indian country,” DeCoteau said. “My time at Minot state was an amazing experience. Faculty, staff, and peers made my journey here just that.

“Making connections here at MSU and beyond, friendships that will last a lifetime and the memories I have here are what I enjoyed the most. I will most definitely miss the atmosphere at Minot State but will be proud to be a part of the alum.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 05/11/22   

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