Wahleah Rose Watson was crowned the 2012 Miss Indian UNM at a pageant recently. Watson, of the Big Water clan born for the Bitter Water clan, is originally from Ft. Defiance, Ariz. She is studying nursing with a concentration in Navajo.

She explained her reasons for competing in the pageant, "I wanted the experience and opportunity to represent UNM, but most of all the honor to represent my family and community."

Watson said, "I believe Miss UNM represents a native woman valuing her native identity, which will set me apart from other applicants when I apply to the nursing program." She added that it is important to be "well-rounded, educated and a role model for UNM, her community and the younger generation."

She said that once she completes a bachelor's in nursing, she would like to pursue a master's degree in midwifery or nurse anesthetist.

"I decided to study nursing because of a tragic trauma of my only five-year-old niece being diagnosed with a rare cancer," she said, adding that coping with the illness has changed the lives of all her family members.

She noticed that when her niece dealt with pain, she relied on the nurse. "The nurse is not only a caregiver, but they created a special relationship that my niece values." Watson sees the potential to help her niece and other ailing children through nursing.

She is the first in her immediate family to pursue higher education. She's in the UNM Student Support Service-TRiO program, where she's had valuable volunteer experiences across the city.

Watson studies flamenco and looks forward to moving up to the advance level of dance.

"My current accomplishment that I am pleased with is finishing my concentration of Navajo Language this semester. I have been able to maintain my cultural identity in the modern society throughout my educational career by always having a positive open mind," she said.

Respect for mother earth and father sky means for her to wake up before the sun comes up, praying sacred traditional prayers and having safe travels from her apartment to school. "I wear Navajo jewelry to represent my identity and take proper care of jewelry that was passed down," she said, adding that she is dedicated to sharing what she's learned about Navajo culture and language with her siblings and niece.

"I am ultimately studying the Navajo language to become a more fluent speaker and to remind myself everyday that I represent four clans and Changing women as a Navajo woman."

Other contestants were Jessica Becenti, Navajo; and Ariel Nez, Navajo. Judges for the event were Eveli Abeyta, Kewa Pueblo, Miss Indian New Mexico 2011-2012; Pam Agoyo, Cochiti Pueblo, Kewa Pueblo, Ohkay Owingeh, director, UNM American Indian Student Services, and special assistant to the President for American Indian Affairs, Melvina McCabe, professor, vice chair of Diversity, Family & community Medicine, director, Native American Alliance for COmmunity Health and Wellness, Navajo; Lawrence Roybal, executive director, ENLACE Statewide Collaborative, executive director, UNM Graduate Resource Center, assistant dean, Graduate Studies; Chandler Sanchez, All Indian Pueblo Council, Acoma Pueblo.

Media contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: cgonzal@unm.edu