Book Review: 'Former queen shares how title is more than a beauty pageant
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Miss Navajo Nation is a title of high importance on the Nation. The title holder is the quintessential representation of her culture and serves as an ambassador for her people.
A new 32-page book from Salina Bookshelf, ‘Becoming Miss Navajo” by Jolyana Begay-Kroupa, is a personal account of her journey to earning and holding the coveted title from 2001-2002.
In the book, Begay-Kroupa shares how as Miss Navajo she was responsible for promoting education, community well-being and the preservation of language and traditional life ways.
One thing Begay-Kroupa makes clear in her account, the contest for Miss Navajo is not a beauty pageant.
Contestants endure a week-long competition as they are tested in their fluency in Diné Bizaad (Navajo language), demonstrate traditional skills, perform contemporary talents and engage in food preparation.
Begay-Kroupa described her first glimpse of Miss Navajo at age seven at the Navajo Nation Fair.
“From that moment, I wanted to be like her,” she wrote. “I uttered my dream of becoming Miss Navajo to my mother, ‘One day I hope to wear a beautiful crown. I hope to wear beautiful jewelry like Miss Navajo.’ I dreamed day and night what it would be like to be Miss Navajo. That opportunity arrived when I was 20 years old.”
But in the years before that, Begay-Kroupa turned to her mother and grandmother for the cultural wisdom and knowledge.
“They taught me ‘what it means to be a young Navajo woman,’” she writes in the book. “They were my primary teachers in shaping my thinking, behavior and values about Navajo culture, language and history.”
During that time, Begay-Kroupa practiced her language skills, staying with her grandmother, who did not speak English, in the summer so she could speak Navajo daily. She practiced her butchering skills and techniques. She spent time practicing her skills, talents and speeches in both English and Navajo.
“There are significant meanings and symbols about Navajo traditional clothes.”
— Jolyana Begay-Kroupa
Miss Navajo 2001-2002
“I performed my song in front of my family,” she wrote. “I practiced wrapping my moccasin leggings and tying my Navajo hair bun as I would not receive any help during the pageant.”
Begay-Kroupa wrote about selecting traditional outfits and how her mother and her aunt sewed four different blouses and skirts made from velveteen material. Her grandmother wove a Biil éé’ (rug dress). She worked during the summer to purchase a set of turquoise jewelry: a necklace, bracelet and rings.
“There are significant meanings and symbols about Navajo traditional clothes,” she wrote. “I made sure I was knowledgeable about the traditional clothing, especially y ké nitsaaí.”
In her book, Begay-Kroupa also describes the week-long competition — the thing she had prepared for years for.
After she won, she focused on the Navajo language and trying to inspire youth to learn the language.
“What I took away from this experience allowed me to discover my passion as a Navajo language teacher and professor,” she said.
Begay-Kroupa is originally from Ts;iłdiiyésiitah (Rabbitbrush) near Fort Defiance, Arizona. She is Navajo (Diné) born into Tachii’nii (Red Running into the Water People) and born for Tsinaajinii (Black Streak Wood People). Her maternal grandfathers are Yé’ii Dine’ é Táchii’nii (Giant People of the Red Running into the Water People).
Begay-Kroupa served as the 50th Miss Navajo Nation from 2001-2002 and currently resides in the Phoenix-Metro area where she is director of development for Phoenix Indian Center.
She has a maters in social and philosophical foundations of education — emphasis in American Indian Education Policy and a bachelor in elementary education.
She currently teaches Navajo language classes at Arizona State University and Stanford University. She has also taught for Harvard University and Yale University. She is married with three children.
To purchase the book visit Salina Bookshelf's website at https://www.salinabookshelf.com/product/becomingmissnavajo/