FLAGSTAFF-Commencing a season of celebration and culminating a semester of dedication, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Native American Student Services and Institute for Native Americans hosted the annual Miss Indian Northern Arizona University Pageant on Nov. 30 at NAU's Cline Library Assembly Hall.
The event drew a large crowd in support of the four contestants vying for the opportunity to promote cultural awareness and understanding of tribal and indigenous nations; support and represent Native American student organizations and clubs; and participate in programs and activities to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts of Native American students at NAU.
The contestants included Shannon Davis, 21, Diné, of Kitsille, a junior majoring in accounting and applied indigenous studies; Laurel J. Hudson, 22, Diné, of Tuba City, a junior majoring in English; Valerie Rae Schweda, 20, Diné, of Tuba City, a sophomore majoring in Computer Information Systems; and Memarie K. Tsosie, 22, Diné, of Many Farms, a junior majoring in psychology and public relations.
Prior to the pageant, the contestants were asked about their reasoning for aspiring to be Miss Indian NAU as well as the significance of this role.
Tsosie replied, "[T]his is a good opportunity for the Native women of NAU to present their talents, gain a title and act as a role model and ambassador. It's also a chance for the Native American community to have someone represent them."
Hudson said, "Just the event and experience…and to have a good time are the reasons I'm doing this. It's also an opportunity to represent all of the Native American population on campus."
Davis responded from a different angle. "If I am chosen, I hope to be a good role model for kids," she said. "I want to encourage everybody to continue their education. I want to be a good ambassador and represent all Native American people on campus and also in Flagstaff."
Scheweda explained her hope to become more involved in the Native university community through this event.
"I've had difficulty in getting involved in Native stuff, so this is a good opportunity to show the people my experience in college and to have an understanding of who I am," Scheweda said.
Event contestants were judged in five categories in order for each to exhibit their personal strengths. The events consisted of a written essay addressing the prompt "As a Native American woman, define what leadership means to you," and personal interviews, both which were conducted prior to the pageant. During the Nov. 29 event four segments were held including: an evening gown and public speaking segment; a traditional competition during which each contestant wore traditional dress and described their attire; a traditional presentation; and an impromptu question.
Perhaps most striking period during the evening were the contestants' answers to the question, "What do you think is the worst stereotype of Native Americans and what would you do to change it?"
To begin, Tsosie replied, "I think the worst stereotype is that we're still considered basically living in the way you see it in the movies," she said.
She explained that when individuals learns that she is a Native American they ask, "'So, do you still live in teepees?' and 'do you dress traditional all the time?'"
Tsosie said that to address this ignorance she would visit schools and community organizations to inform people of the true lifestyles and ways of various Native peoples. "The best thing is for other people to not be ignorant. I think the best way to address this ignorance is through knowledge," Tsosie said.
Hudson responded in a similar way. "I think the worst stereotypes about Native Americans is based upon generalizations through media," she said. "There are basically two types: those who are romancing the Native American like the noble savage…and the dehumanizing, superior view. How I would go about changing this is through cultural awareness to show people out there who we are, that we are people too, and we're the same…and just to show that we're individuals also and that we have background and history. In order to do that, every individual, not just Native Americans should be confident in who they are."
Davis said, "I think the worst stereotype of Native Americans is that we're all the same, that we're just Native Americans as a group and don't realize that we're different tribes,"
Davis discussed the many difference between Navajo, Hopi and Plains peoples and shared a personal experience of visiting New Hampshire and where she was asked if she lived in a teepee.
To address this misunderstanding Davis said, "We need to bring out cultural awareness and need to bring parts of our culture and share it."
Scheweda shared an emotional story of discrimination.
"The worst stereotype was when I was called an apple my first year in school. It was really hard to understand why I was being judged so harshly-by Native Americans especially. They didn't want to understand who I was as an individual. The hardest judgment is discrimination," Scheweda said. "The worst thing is, it caused pain…I'm standing here telling you that I'm not just some Christian, I'm rooted in my culture."
In conclusion of the pageant events, Memarie Tsosie was chosen as the new Miss Indian Northern Arizona University and Valerie Rae Scheweda was selected as the First Attendant and Miss Congeniality. Tsosie replaces Kristie Bluehouse, 21, Diné, a senior public relations major from Ganado.
Bluehouse described her enjoyment during her tenure especially in promoting university organizations such as the Native Americans United, Native American Business Association, and the Kinlani dormitory. She said that as Miss Indian NAU, she traveled extensively and met many new people. The position also allowed her to grow closer to her grandparents, learn about traditional ways and acquire traditional attire.
Sharon Doctor, NASS interim program coordinator sr., said the event encourages the Miss Indian NAU contestants to "serve as a role model for Native youth, because they have gone on to college. They promote the attitude that if they can do it others can do it, too. They display Native pride, Native American culture and heritage."
Doctor said the titleholder is also expected to fulfill the goals and objectives (listed previously) with cultural pride, dignity and honor.
"She gains leadership experience in her role as an ambassador for NAU," Doctor said.