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New Miss Indian World follows crowning with college graduation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Just days after winning the Miss Indian World pageant at the 2018 Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, Taylor Susan was back in her home state taking college final exams.

Miss Indian World 2018-19, Taylor Talbi Denzhoone Susan, is White Mountain Apache/Walker River Paiute. She hails from Whiteriver, Ariz. (SOURCE: Derek Mathews)

Susan, full name Taylor Talbi Denzhoone Susan, 25, graduated May 11 from the University of Arizona, in Tucson, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in chemistry and theater.

Susan is a member of the White Mountain Apache/Walker River Paiute tribes of Whiteriver in eastern Arizona. She was one of 30 contestants seeking the title, which was bestowed at a ceremony April 28, that drew 10,000 people to Tingley Coliseum at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque. The winner of the title serves as a cultural ambassador for Native Americans.

She has already had a taste of what her new role will mean. She was Miss Native American University of Arizona 2014-15 and Miss Indian Arizona 2015-16.

“I’ve learned my role as an ambassador is to teach, inspire and honor the commitment to helping others,” she said.

Her themes will include the importance of spending quality time with elders and the value of pursuing higher education. She believes it’s important to communicate why songs, dances, stories and languages of indigenous peoples are vital to their cultural identity.

Although Susan moved to Phoenix when she was 3 years old because her parents were working there, her family retained close ties to their home community.

“When the weekends or summers would approach after school, my family and I packed our bags to travel to Whiteriver to be surrounded with family and partake in our cultural ceremonies,” she said.

Her father, Lloyd Susan, gained a reputation as a tough competitor in the rodeo world and Susan grew up with a love of horseback riding. Anne Susan, her mother, worked for the National Institutes of Health and sometimes took Taylor, her sister Ashley and brother Justin, to work-related conferences.

Some of Susan’s favorite childhood memories were times spent with her maternal grandmother, Lucinda Miranda Willie, when they went to coming-of-age events called Sunrise Ceremonies.

“Partaking in our ceremonies made me so proud of where I come from,” said Susan, adding, “Being surrounded by culture and family has always been the best medicine for me.”

She enjoyed sharing stories about her culture with her friends at school who were from diverse backgrounds.

While a student, Susan worked as a Starbucks barista at the J.W. Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa. She hopes to combine that experience and her love of chemistry to work some day at the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle, Wash.

The first Miss Indian World pageant was held in 1984. Contestants must be single women aged between 18 and 25. They are judged in the areas of public speaking, traditional talents, dance, an essay and an interview.

Last year’s Miss Indian World was Raven Swamp, 23, of Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, and a member of the Mohawk tribe.

The first runner-up for the 2018 title is Lori Martin Kingbird of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe from Cass Lake, Minn., and second runner-up is Dinée Dorame, Dine Nation from Albuquerque, who also won the public speaking award. Other special award winners from New Mexico are Shenise Arthur, Dine Nation, for best interview, and Tyra Nicole Quetawaki, Zuni, for best dancer.