Contests involving crowns are often thought of as involving glittering evening gowns and fancy swimsuits, but the Miss Native American NMSU competition is one that values cultural knowledge, communication skills and academic achievement above all else. A winner was crowned last month and she will help support the events, recruitment and outreach efforts of the Native American student organizations at New Mexico State University and its American Indian Program.
LaToya Johnson impressed the judges and won the competition in part due to her demonstration of cultural competency. During the competition Johnson discussed the different elements of the traditional Navajo cradle board, sang a lullaby in Navajo and recited a poem in Navajo.
"She carried herself in a poised and dignified manner and had a cool confidence," said Justin McHorse, director of NMSU's American Indian Program, or AIP. "I commend all of the contestants because they were willing to step up to the leadership role that Miss Native American NMSU must take on."
Johnson is a freshman from Crownpoint, N.M., who is majoring in both kinesiology and athletic training. After completing her undergraduate coursework she plans to attend graduate school to become a physical therapist. Johnson said she wants to set a good academic and cultural example for other students and credits her parents and traditional upbringing with giving her the inspiration to take on the challenge.
"I'm so appreciative and thankful for my parents and family support," Johnson said. "Without them, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything."
McHorse said it wasn't until after the competition that he found out Johnson has participated in several Navajo pageants and at the age of 19 counts this as her eighth title. That being said, Johnson still considers this one of her greatest accomplishments because she gets to represent Native American students and NMSU.
The pageant was coordinated by the Native American Business Students Association as part of American Indian Week. McHorse said all of the student organizations in the AIP did a great job in coming together to organize the events and those involved in organizing and participating in these type of activities get a chance to work on their leadership, organization and management skills.
Johnson mentioned that being involved in organizations like the kinesiology club and the AIP's Peer Mentor Program helped her have a sense of community while in school. Johnson's mentor, Aileen Cruz, happened to be a former Miss Native American NMSU winner.
"I think we're going to have a good year and I look forward to working with LaToya and working together to represent the AIP, student organizations and NMSU," McHorse said. "Hopefully down the road she may want to serve as a mentor as well."