When many people think of pageants, they think of swimsuit competitions and beauty queens trying to articulate thoughts about world politics. Miss Native American NMSU is not a beauty pageant but a search for a student ambassador who can educate others about Native American cultures and help support Native American students on campus.
Dana Nez, a junior from Tohatchi, New Mexico, and citizen of the Navajo Nation, was recently selected as Miss Native American NMSU for 2011-2012. Justin McHorse, director of the American Indian Program at New Mexico State University said when selecting a winner, judges mainly consider the contestant’s knowledge of her traditional culture and her public speaking abilities.
“These attributes are important because not only does Miss Native American NMSU help recruit prospective students, but she makes herself available to the community to help educate schoolchildren about American Indian culture and serves as a positive role model for American Indian students,” McHorse said.
Nez won over this year’s judges by singing Navajo lullabies and playing a Native American flute. Her flute playing also impressed Albino Lujan, a performer from Taos Pueblo who visited NMSU during American Indian week earlier this year. Lujan was so impressed that he gave Nez one of his own flutes.
“It was a blessing and a privilege to have an elder recognize me as a fellow flute player. I was so deeply honored by that gift,” Nez said. She now carries her flute everywhere she goes in case the mood strikes her to play.
As Miss Native American NMSU, Nez will assist student organizations, go on recruiting trips and must maintain her grade point average as well. Nez is majoring in geology and after obtaining her bachelor’s degree, plans to do graduate research about how Native American stories, history and cultural knowledge can be tied to the geological record.
One of Nez’s goals during her tenure as Miss Native American NMSU is to start a music club where members can share songs, dances and have fun.
“I think if we brought the drum and flutes out and came together the music would carry through the air and the hallways and our fellow students would know we were here. They might look to find out where the music was coming from and we would invite anyone who is interested to come share with us,” she said.
Nez is also interested in helping to increase the number of Native American students at NMSU and wants to promote Native American student organizations like the Native American Business Students Association. In the last school year, five NABSA students attended the American Indian Business Leaders national conference in Phoenix and three of the five (including Nez) won awards.