Who was it that said, “Kids are kids”?
It just might be truer than you think, after hearing from two Native American students attending high schools in Rio Rancho.
What’s it like, coming off the reservation or pueblo and stepping into an urban high school, each with 2,400-plus students, in the 21st century?
They, too, have hopes and dreams for the future while enjoying their present — and always mindful of their proud, sometimes turbulent past. That’s the main difference.
According to figures from Rio Rancho Public Schools, there are approximately 1,900 Native American students — at least one from all of the state’s 19 pueblos — among the district’s total enrollment, which approaches 18,000. That’s more than 10 percent.
Meet two of these proud Native Americans strolling the hallways and excelling in their classes at Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools:
Colin Maryboy: A sophomore at Cleveland, Colin moved with his family from Cochiti Pueblo a few years ago, when he was an eighth-grader.
CHS, he says, “is pretty good. I like it — I’ve made new friends; you get to meet new people.”
His father, Todd Romero, is of pueblo descent and works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Albuquerque as a data analyst; his mother, Cecily, is of Navajo descent. Yet, they get along, Todd joked.
As for their active son, who is in the school’s JROTC program, “We never see him,” Todd said.
Colin says he’s thinking about a life in the military following graduation in May 2021, preferring at this juncture the Marines or Air Force, and, hopefully, rising through the ranks to become an officer.
“He’s such a great leader in our Native American group,” noted Suzanne Nguyen-Wisneski, executive director of bilingual and Native American programs, who stays close to the Native American student unions at both schools.
Colin maintains his Cochiti roots: “I go up there to dance, things like that,” and listed his musical tastes as “country/western, hip-hop and Native American.”
“Things like that” include, of course, the annual Fiesta Day, held annually on July 14.
Colin’s father admires the way his son, the couple’s only child, has been “intertwining everything.”
Colin’s class load encompasses Theater Tech, weightlifting, Geometry, World History, Algebra and English. He’s thinking about going out for the football team next year.
Amaya Huskey: A senior at Rio Rancho High School, excited about the possibility of attending Yale University “based on my test scores,” Amaya is literally royalty.
Last November, she was named Miss Indian Rio Rancho Schools, which resulted in her memorable participation in the grand entry at the Gathering of Nations, where she met tribal members from California, Florida and Canada.
She was raised much of her life in Flagstaff, Ariz., arriving in the City of Vision in time to attend Lincoln Middle School as a seventh-grader, and then headed to RRHS as a freshman.
She has two younger sisters. Her father, Aaron Huskey, is a construction foreman; her mother is Elaina Kewenboyouma.
She expects her future — following Yale, Arizona State or other universities she’s interested in — to include medical school and a career as a dermatologist.
She said, “I didn’t like the challenge of (performing) surgery,” instead intrigued with the skin “and how it works.”
Like Colin, she stays busy with a decidedly tough slate of classes: photography, bio-med science, AVID, trigonometry, AP Government, AP Language and Composition, and Anatomy and Physiology. (“Photography and trig are easy,” she said.) Her 3.5 grade-point average has her in the top 20 percent of the Class of 2019.
She’s a leader in the school’s Native American Union, spends time fulfilling her Miss Indian platform and found more time for her pursuits after deciding being a Rams basketball player wasn’t for her.
The lone Hopi student at RRHS, and not afraid to speak her mind, she said she felt offended during her days in American History, feeling “out of place” hearing about World War II.
“I was the only one who spoke about the Code Talkers — a huge part in history,” she said. “They never talked about what happened to Native Americans (in light of Manifest Destiny); it was sugar-coated and thrown off to the side.”
Nonetheless, at RRHS, “As far as race, there is never a problem,” although occasionally she has to dispel some negativity, remarks she classifies as stereotypical: “‘Natives run casinos’ … ‘Natives don’t pay taxes.’ People don’t understand that.”
She makes it a point to wear Native American jewelry on a daily basis, and sported some gorgeous turquoise rings and squash-blossom necklace when she sat down to talk with the Observer.
Seemingly most important to her is that platform she chose when she ran in the pageant, held at Cleveland High School’s Concert Hall.
“Those goals I set — awareness of healthy lifestyles,” she said.
“Diabetes and high blood pressure are in my family,” and she’s learned a lot about processed food, the importance of drinking a lot of water and avoiding sodas, plus the importance of sleep.
She’ll admit to munching pizza occasionally, and is enough of one of “today’s kids” to have a Facebook page.
But she still loves her heritage, heading west to the Hopi village of Moenkopi and visiting and helping her grandparents on the Navajo reservation near Tolani Lake, north of Winslow. She helps them tend to their livestock, which includes determining which are pregnant and vaccinations.
Her grandparents helped her learn the Hopi language, and she accumulated two years of French at RRHS.
“I do like living in Rio Rancho,” she said. “(RRHS) has given me so many opportunities.”
One of those opportunities came when she was invited to participate in a camp at the University of Rochester (N.Y.), where she spent a week “balancing cultural tradition with college.”
All things considered, with her treasured culture and optimistic future, she said, “I’m good where I’m at.”