Reyaun Francisco has made history as the first Native American student to run for president of ASNMSU, the Associated Students of New Mexico State University.
Francisco, a senior majoring in government and human resource management, is a first-generation college student. He grew up on the Navajo reservation near Fort Wingate in northwest New Mexico.
Francisco said his grandfather’s service on the local school board combined with his own experiences on the reservation inspired him to pursue public service.
“Growing up on the Navajo reservation, having seen so many difficult circumstances our people have faced over the years, it’s been quite an experience for me to want to become a leader and want to help my people from the impoverished nature that we’re in," Francisco said.
After an internship with ASNMSU, Francisco ran for and won a seat on the Senate in 2018 to represent the College of Arts and Sciences.
During his term, the Senate passed a resolution he helped draft recognizing Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day.
Francisco is also taking part in an Indigenous Environmental Leadership Exchange program in Guatemala. He said his time as Senator combined with his work experience and extracurricular duties prepared him to run for ASNMSU president.
“I’m a full-time worker, paying for my education. I’m a student leader and this whole combination of things has been very stressful for me. But it’s a great work to help other students along the way," Francisco said. "And having had the many opportunities and experiences I’ve had I feel like I want to help other Native American students or help any other student get to fulfill their dream of getting their bachelor’s degree or being the first person in their family to receive a higher education.”
Francisco said he focused his campaign on advocating for student workers and DACA recipients as well as increasing sustainability efforts. That includes going paperless, upgrading classroom technology and adding glass-recycling bins across campus.
“As a Native American... we’re born knowing how to take care of our environment, that our Earth is our mother and its very unfortunate that at our university we don’t have a lot of recycling bins. We don’t have a lot of trash bins to better address the trash that is accumulating on our campus. That has given me the sense of we need to do something about it," Francisco said.
While Francisco is the first Native American to run for ASNMSU president, a number of firsts for indigenous representation took place at the state and federal levels in the 2018 midterms.
Voters in New Mexico elected minorities to represent all three of its Congressional districts.
Furthermore, Rep. Deb Haaland along with Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids made history together as the first Native American women elected to Congress. Francisco said the elections showed him there’s no limit to what Native American people can accomplish.
As for respecting indigenous cultures, there’s much progress to be made. President Trump continues to call Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” for her claims to Cherokee ancestry. He even said it while meeting with World War II Navajo Code Talkers in November 2017.
“And I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’ But you know what? I like you. Because you are special," Trump said.
While Warren has apologized for her DNA test, Francisco said the political climate that allows Trump to mock Native Americans is disgraceful.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent. That rhetoric is absolutely abhorrent," Francisco said. "We have to remember, like I mentioned, the land that we’re on is indigenous land. We have to remember that our history was stemmed from Native American history. And when Donald Trump... mocks the Battle of Wounded Knee I believe, the massacre that happened, that is absolutely abhorrent and it’s absolutely disgraceful and people who defend that are complacent to that.”
Regardless of events transpiring in the White House, Francisco said he aims to build local bridges while being a resilient voice for students.
ASNMSU election week continues through March 15.