FLAGSTAFF -- It was an emotional evening for Radmilla Cody. The former Miss Navajo Nation celebrated the release of her new CD, entitled "Spirit of a Woman," at the Museum of Northern Arizona on the evening of June 11.
Radmilla treated her family, friends and supporters to the invitation-only event as an offering of thanks to people who stood by her through the difficult period of her incarceration.
Mary Kim Titla, a member of the San Carlos Apache Nation and Channel 12 news personality, emceed the event, which began with family members including Dorothy Cody, Leonard Chee and of course, Radmilla's uncle, Herman Cody, who appears on her CDs.
Herman told attendees that the singer had originally approached him for one song.
Speaking directly to Radmilla, Herman said that "I said I'd write one song that you can carry through your reign [as Miss Navajo Nation]."
Since that time, Herman said, he has reached back into his traditional teaching and brought forward many more songs.
He too thanked all who came out to support his niece.
"We've seen Radmilla through hard times and good times," Herman said.
Leila Help Tulley, another close friend, commended Cody for "Spirit of a Woman," and described the life experiences that Radmilla brought forward through a very difficult period of her life as "fruition and rebirth."
"Today, Radmilla looks at life differently," Help Tulley said.
Flautist Robert Tree Cody (also known as Red Thunderbear, Dakota/Maricopa), another distinguished friend, also expressed his honor in appearing on Radmilla's behalf--both on the new CD, and at its release party. He, too, spoke of Radmilla's incarceration.
Radmilla served time in federal prison for failing to report felony drug activity on the part of her boyfriend.
"We've both been in the same boat," Robert said. "I was very flattered when she told me that she's admired her flute music from when she was really small," Robert said of Radmilla.
The evening also featured a fashion show highlighting the designs of Aresta LaRusso (Dine) and jewelry of Kim Lohnes (Dine/Lakota).
Finally, the moment everyone had waited for arrived and Radmilla entered Branigar Hall singing. After performing her first song of the evening, she waited for the applause to die before expressing her thanks to her guests.
"I want to thank you all for being here tonight," Radmilla said. "I could have opened this evening to the public, but this is a new beginning. This new album is my baby. It was a challenge."
Radmilla said that she'd worked on many of the songs during her incarceration, and expressed her gratitude to Robert Doyle of Canyon Records for his continued support--which included visits by Doyle into the federal prison to listen to her songs.
But prison is now behind her, Radmilla said.
"As a survivor of domestic violence, I have closed that chapter of my life."
Though she spoke of closure, in no way did Radmilla attempt to pretend that this troubled chapter never happened.
Radmilla described her appreciation for the numerous Navajos across the reservation that wrote letters to her during that period.
"All of that remains in my heart now, and I hope I will continue to touch lives," she said.
"You have all played an important role in this. I am so excited, so looking forward. Words cannot express my gratitude. I want to say thank you to each and every one of you."
Radmilla's mother, Margaret Cody, approached the microphone, telling everyone present that she is not ashamed of her daughter--or her own troubled past.
"She is the biggest part of my healing," Margaret said of Radmilla. "I have celebrated 10 years of sobriety. My daughters [Radmilla and Jamilla] are my blessings. We all have our challenges. I have a new life and a new outlook. Now I'm blessed with my mother, who tries to mold me into the person she is.
"The past is the past. Let's look forward," Margaret concluded. "You people are all here for a reason. You have touched her [Radmilla's] heart. God bless you guys."
As part of the evening, Radmilla hosted a giveaway.
"I want to give gifts to some individuals who stood there for me," Radmilla said. "Not to take away from all of you here tonight."
Robert Doyle, the Help Tulley family, Dr. Paul Moore, Larry Foster, Leonard Chee and Bill McCabe were among the individuals who were especially honored with a gift from Cody.
During the presentation of these gifts, Radmilla grew tearful, and her emotions continued to rise as she performed two songs.
"Blessing in Disguise" speaks of Radmilla's growing maturity, learning to accept her incarceration as a blessing.
The honorable Evelyne Bradley, a diminutive elder who distinguished herself among the Navajo as the first Navajo Justice, won the hearts of many as she rose to speak about her admiration and respect for Radmilla.
"I am so honored that Radmilla called me to speak here tonight," Bradley said. "I met Radmilla in Chinle, and I was so amazed and impressed that her life is so different than mine.
"She was raised traditionally. Her grandmother carried her every where, and taught her the Navajo language, prayers, ceremonies and the sacredness of it all," Bradley continued. "I didn't have that. I was raised in the Anglo, western way, with beds and bathrooms. My parents did not teach us the language and culture."
As she listened to Radmilla speak, Bradley said that she realized how much of her culture she had missed and how terribly sad that had made her feel.
Since that day in Chinle, Bradley has formed a close relationship with Radmilla.
"I've loved her like my own child. I've been in despair for her. I've said my prayers for her, and I've welcomed her home," Bradley said, nearly in tears herself. "I've gotten a lot of criticism for supporting her and bragging about her. But our experiences give us the knowledge and intelligence to have the wisdom to impart, especially to our children."