Miss Indian pageant helps native students connect with the community and world

Adorned with a large gold crown and a maroon and gold sash, Jennifer Jones stands as one of the faces of Native American students at ASU.

Miss Indian ASU is a pageant that allows Native American students at the University to compete to represent their tribal community at ASU.

Laura Gonzales-Macias, faculty advisor for Miss Indian ASU, said the pageant is a way to celebrate the many cultures represented at the University.

"It’s a pageant that is put out every April," she said. "Our Native-Indians and Alaskan Natives can compete based on their platform, which revolves around education and awareness of the Native-Indian people."

Gonzales-Macias said that there are 22 tribes in Arizona, and all of those and others can be represented through the pageant.

"Having a royalty at ASU recognizes that we are supportive of native communities and native students here ..." she said. "We’re raising awareness of higher education, so that when our royalty are asked to go to parades or participate in some kind of event, they’re representing American Indian and Alaska Native students at ASU," she said.

Jones, mechanical engineering senior, never competed in pageants before, but she'd been attending the Miss Indian ASU pageant since her junior year of high school. As a native student, she said she loved watching the girls coming together to represent their cultures.

When she got to ASU, Jones said her friends told her she should enter the pageant, but it wasn't until the 2015 Miss Indian ASU, Brooke Overturf, approached her until she decided to go for it.

Although it was her first time competing in a pageant, Jones won the title, and now represents her tribe, the Navajo Nation, as the 37th Miss Indian ASU.

"I serve as a goodwill ambassador to represent ASU and the community," Jones said. "I advocate for my personal platform as well, which focuses on higher education for tribal communities."

Each year, the competing students determine their personal platform, which they will advocate for the year they serve if they are crowned. Jones' personal platform focuses on higher education for tribal communities, encouraging native children to go to college and to seek higher education. She said she feels as though she serves as a role model for them as a native student going to college.

Jones said many Native American children don't often look into going to college, so it is important for there to be role models to encourage them.

As Miss Indian ASU, Jones goes to various events and speaks on behalf of ASU and the tribal community here.

"I give exposure to the school and to the tribal communities, attend events, tell others why we do what we do and why I stand for what I stand for," Jones said.

Gonzales-Macias said they used to have both a Mr. and a Miss Indian ASU, but they haven't for a few years. However, the 2017 pageant might bring the counterpart back.

"In spring, we will probably implement both," she said. "Students have expressed interest in competing, the committee is talking about the possibility to opening it up again. There will be a call for all Native American students to participate in the pageant."

Jones said she thinks the implementation of Mr. Indian ASU is a great idea.

"This is a good opportunity to bring it back," she said. "I think it would be an awesome opportunity to see a young man get involved, and it would probably elevate the number of Native American students coming to ASU. There are a lot of strong women recognized in our culture, so recognizing a man as well would give those young boys a role model to look up to in higher education."

Miss Indian ASU is just a small branch of the Miss Indian pageant. There is also a Miss Indian Arizona, a Miss Indian USA and a Miss Indian World.

The 2016 Miss Indian World is an ASU student as well.

Although she never competed for Miss Indian ASU, Danielle Ta'Sheena Finn, an ASU law student, holds the title of Miss Indian World.

"It's like the head of the head," Finn said. "Miss Indian World is the highest title a native woman can hold."

Chosen based on how well they know their culture, Miss Indian World gets to travel the world as a cultural ambassador, talking to tribal communities all over the world and representing their own tribe while advocating for their personal platform.

Finn's personal platform focuses on higher education, language preservation and suicide prevention.

Because they both encourage higher education in tribal communities, Finn and Jones work together on many of their projects.

"I do a lot of higher education stuff with ASU, so that's kind of how my title ties into ASU," Finn said. "(Jones and I) actually get to travel together sometimes. We did the Arizona Tribal Nations Tour together and we both were talking about the importance of going to college and pursuing whatever degree you want to pursue. We also do other little things, like we go to the American Indian convocations together."

The title of Miss Indian World is important both to Finn and to her tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota.

Finn said holding the highest title for Native American women is an honor to her, but she thinks it holds more importance for her tribe.

"Thousands of women have competed to be Miss Indian World, but only 33 have been selected," she said. "I think it means more to my nation because this is the first time my tribe has ever been represented, and we're actually the third-largest tribe in the United States. It means more to them that they finally got one of the spots and they have someone representing them."

Reach the reporter at aegeland@asu.edu or follow @alexisegeland on Twitter.

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