Scholarship pageant elects leadership role among young Native American women

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Scholarship pageant elects leadership role among young Native American women

NAU Erin-O’Keefe

The Miss Indian Northern Arizona University (NAU) Scholarship Pageant was full of bright colors and patterns, traditional song and dance and the creative cultural expression of five exceptional young indigenous women. The purpose of this pageant was to find and reward a young woman who could be a student ambassador in cultural awareness along with someone who could radiate cultural pride, dignity and honor as a diplomatic leader. The contestants for Miss Indian NAU 2013 must go through a very demanding, life-changing process to prove they are worthy of such an honorary title and responsibility.

Contestants for the Miss Indian NAU 2013 had to submit an application nine pages long, write personal essays, submit recommendation letters, complete preliminary interviews and be a part of a federally recognized Native American tribe. In addition, an entire month of preparing for the pageant competition itself was required. According to first-time contestant Chelsea Natseway, a music education freshman from Seattle, Wash., preparing for the pageant is a lengthy process taking a considerable amount of work.

“We’ve been working on everything for about a month. This last week has been crazy, because we have met every single day, on top of doing homework and school work. It was really difficult, but we got it done,” Natseway said.

The pageant consists of three categories: the evening gown presentation, the traditional attire and talent and the impromptu question. The evening gown presentation tests confidence and public speaking skills, as the contestants shared their platform of what they plan to promote if they were elected as Miss Indian NAU. Each contestant had a unique and creative platform ranging from community involvement to ending discrimination. Each contestant also had a personal reason as to how and why she had chosen her platform and how it had meaning to her.

This evening gown portion of the pageant had a specific impact on newly elected Miss Indian NAU First Attendant Charnelle Williams, a sophomore speech language pathology major, because of the emphasis placed on public speaking skills.

“I’m usually kind of a shy person, but having to go out in front of other people has kind of opened my eyes to all that I can be and how I can benefit from everybody and how they can benefit from me,” Williams said.

The traditional portion was a bold presentation of traditional native attire and traditional talent, which showed the contestants’ cultural awareness and pride. The traditional talents the contestants displayed included storytelling, medicinal plants, traditional dancing and singing.

The part of the competition extra challenging for the contestants was the impromptu question. Each contestant remained unaware of the question until they heard it for the first time onstage. Once asked, they only had three minutes to give their best answer.

This year’s question was as follows: “As an indigenous woman, what leadership skills and values do you consider to be important for success?

Contestant Natseway explained the Miss Indian NAU title is a major leadership role for the Native American community in Flagstaff.

“I think being able to have an admin for the native community at NAU is really awesome in the fact that we have a leader, or an idol, to look up to. Miss Indian NAU has to be a role model and really positive,” Natseway said.

This representation of personal culture was important to all the contestants who participated in this year’s pageant.

“[It is important] to show my history, my heritage, and be proud of it, and also to show that I am not only a Navajo, but multi-cultured,” said Tanya Genack, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major.

“For me, it’s always been about how I grew up and that is all I know how to do. If I don’t have that and if I don’t see that, then I kind of lose a part of me. I want to keep it going as long as I could and do my part in sharing the tradition and teaching it to everyone else,” Williams said.

After each part of the competition was completed, the judges took an intermission to confer. The judging panel consisting of five Native American NAU faculty members christened Tyesha Ignacio, a sophomore environmental studies major, worthy of the title and awarded her a generous $1,600 scholarship along with a quilt and gifts donated by the previous Miss Indian NAU’s and Miss Indian NAU First Attendant’s families.

Erin O’Keefe, a first year graduate student in sustainable environments and the winner of the Miss Indian NAU pageant in 2012, has taken her role as a spokesperson seriously.

“I entered into this journey with a view that the role of Miss Indian NAU encompasses not only a positive role model and ambassador, but also serves as a visionary and a catalyst. This title bestows a very privileged but humble position to perpetuate a vision of positive change and exude inspiration to others,” O’Keefe said.

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