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Wynona Peters
Sociology and ethnic studies alumna serves as dignitary

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Wynona Peters

“I have always admired Miss Tohono O’odham Nation. To me she is someone who takes pride in her himdag (culture), people and nation. She is a role model for many young O’odham women and girls. As an ambassador, she not only takes the initiative to represent the Nation but she also represents herself as a beautiful O’odham woman willing to share who she is as an individual.”

- Wynona Peters

Wynona Peters ’11 has always felt a strong connection with her American Indian culture. While at USD, she double majored in ethnic studies and sociology. She was a leader and mentor in USD’s Native American Student Organization as well as the American Indian Recruitment Program. After graduating, she was appointed to serve as an ambassador for the Tohono O’odham Nation. We caught up with her to chat about college, identity and service.

What inspired you to seek the title of Miss Tohono O'odham Nation? Tell us what you have enjoyed most about the experience.

I have always admired Miss Tohono O’odham Nation. To me she is someone who takes pride in her himdag (culture), people and nation. She is a role model for many young O’odham women and girls. As an ambassador, she not only takes the initiative to represent the Nation, but she also represents herself as a beautiful O’odham woman willing to share who she is as an individual.

My experience as Miss Tohono O’odham Nation has been an unforgettable journey that words cannot express. Since January, most of my weekends have been booked for community events, tribal parades and pageants, conferences and other local celebrations. The best part of this journey would have to be the representation I provide for not only the Nation but also for my community and family. While attending events outside the Nation it is always nice to teach others about our people and where we come from. I always get questions regarding our location, population and people.

Though I get to travel to many different reservations throughout Arizona and other states, my own Nation is the place I enjoy most. Since everyone knows Miss Tohono O’odham Nation, they come up to me and acknowledge me for being that role model and ambassador, which is always nice to hear.

Wynona Peters

“The knowledge I gained through sociology and ethnic studies prepared me to educate myself and open my eyes to everything I was required to know about my nation and people.”

- Wynona Peters

While at USD you majored in ethnic studies and sociology. What drew you to those two disciplines? How did your education prepare you to serve as a dignitary for your nation?

Through USD's sociology program, I gained the ability to analyze many of the issues occurring within my own community. This definitely helped me develop my platform for the year, because it is one key component to the role of Miss Tohono O’odham Nation’s service. The ethnic studies major also prepared me for the title. I was able to take what I learned through the major and apply it to my Tohono O’odham identity.

In order to serve as a dignitary for my nation, I have to be well grounded in my culture, nation and myself. My education certainly helped with this and contributed to giving me the courage to run for such a prestigious title. The knowledge I gained through sociology and ethnic studies prepared me to educate myself and open my eyes to everything I was required to know about my nation and people. I had to become familiar with the government, current issues, history, culture and language. These topics are essential for students studying sociology and ethnic studies! Both majors prepared me with the practical tools to serve as Miss Tohono O’odham Nation.

Wynona Peters

“During our time at USD we worked to spread awareness of Native Americans by organizing campus and community events as well as recruiting students who were interested in learning more about Native peoples.”

- Wynona Peters

What were some of your non-academic pursuits at USD? How did those activities shape you?

The Native American Student Organization (NASO) was introduced to me during my freshman year by Professor Michelle Jacob, PhD, and other Native students. During my sophomore year, another American Indian student and I decided to get the organization active and served as the co-chairs. During our time at USD we worked to spread awareness of Native Americans by organizing campus and community events as well as recruiting students who were interested in learning more about Native peoples.

The other pursuit I became involved with was the American Indian Recruitment Program (AIR). I served as a mentor to Native urban and reservation high school students. After I was introduced to the program through one of Dr. Jacob’s classes, I became passionate about it and continued to mentor until my senior year. What I enjoyed most about the program was hanging out with various Native youth and being able to share our college experiences as well as getting them to think about higher education.

Both pursuits created a home for me where I could just be myself and share my O’odham culture with others. Through NASO we were able to create a small welcoming community where I could relate to others as well as share a part of myself with the USD community. I gained the confidence to spread awareness, work on issues that would make an impact on campus and obtain the leadership roles needed to succeed. On the other hand, AIR created a huge support system for me and really gave me the experience to become a great mentor. My experience working with the students touched my heart. Not only was I able to provide my support, I was also helping fellow American Indian students succeed at obtaining higher education.

I understand that you have kept in touch with Dr. Jacob since you graduated. How important was faculty mentorship to you at USD?

Were it not for my advisors Dr. Jacob and Belinda Lum, PhD, (former assistant professor of sociology), I would not have graduated on time with a double major and published an article.

Dr. Jacob provided more than just faculty mentorship. She established a home away from home. Her humbleness and willingness takes students so far. She wants us to succeed, and provides us with opportunities to reach beyond our potential. She has inspired me to be a better mentor, educator and listener.

Wynona Peters

“My experience working with the students touched my heart. Not only was I able to provide my support, I was also helping fellow American Indian students succeed at obtaining higher education.”

- Wynona Peters

What is your advice to American Indian students who might be new to our campus, or who are considering attending USD?

Just be you. It may be hard to adjust and feel welcomed, but staying true to yourself and knowing where you come from will take you far. Find support through faculty, advisors and colleagues, because they are always going to be around to help you. I had a difficult time adapting and relating to others, but my strong sense of identity kept me going and led me to many opportunities and accomplishments. Get involved on campus, meet others who share the same interests and open your eyes to new things. Lastly, enjoy your time, have fun and know you’re capable of success.

What are your goals for the future?

One of my goals for the future is graduate school. Once I finish graduate school, I want to return home and work for my Nation. I’m interested in working with the youth—helping them to live a great lifestyle and maintain our O’odham way of life. Throughout my journey as Miss Tohono O’odham, one of the big issues I see with the youth is low self-esteem and our culture not being maintained. That’s why I want to work on this issue and hopefully make a difference for our future generations.

- Anne Malinoski ‘11

Quick Facts

  • Wynona means first granddaughter.
  • I've held five tribal royalty titles, including four district titles and the current nation title.
  • My first steps were chasing a basketball.
  • I started traditional dancing at the age of three.
  • I have never fractured or broken a bone, but I chipped my front tooth playing basketball.

Useful Links

Ethnic Studies Degree at USD

Sociology Degree at USD

ANICA Programs

USD Center for Inclusion and Diversity