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US Indigenous pageants in Arizona defy the 'Indian Princess' myth, stressing culture and leadership

02:46  14 november  2021
02:46  14 november  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Indigenous pageants in Arizona defy the ' Indian Princess ' myth , stressing culture and leadership . Debra Utacia Krol. The first Miss Indian Arizona pageant was held during the Arizona State Fair in 1961. Veronica Homer, who won the first title at age 17, said the program was the idea of Charles Garland, then the fair’s director. The state sponsored the program for five years and after that, various tribal communities provided the venues, with sponsorship by the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona , the State Fair Commission and tribes, including Homer's own, the Colorado River Indian

Tribal royalty pageants showcase young Indigenous women who defy the " Indian princess " myth . Such pageants retain some components of their mainstream counterparts. Participants model evening wear, undergo interviews and the titleholders are given crowns. Tribal royalty crowns are beaded, woven or crafted from silver and turquoise. The talent competition is based on tribal culture and history. In addition to evening wear, the contestants showcase traditional Indigenous clothing and are expected to explain the significance of each facet of their regalia.

PHOENIX — Skehg’ Hiosik Galindo wore a traditional black-and-white satin O’odham blouse and skirt set off by a multistrand necklace crafted from green, white and black glass beads. The necklace was accented by a green shell pendant and adorned with a few other smaller shells. Traditional O'odham cowhide sandals with plain cowhide straps completed her outfit.

Angelica Lopez (left), Miss Indian Arizona 2012-2013, embraces Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community after Marrietta is crowned Miss Indian Arizona 2021-2022 during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021. © Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic Angelica Lopez (left), Miss Indian Arizona 2012-2013, embraces Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community after Marrietta is crowned Miss Indian Arizona 2021-2022 during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021.

As Galindo spoke, her face lit up like a flower, reflecting her name, which means “Pretty Flower” in her native O’odham language.

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The Miss Indian Arizona program is 60 years old, but it is also part of a new movement as Indigenous royalty serves as cultural ambassadors.

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“Being able to serve as ambassador for my community is honestly a very prestigious thing to be able to do,” she said. “There will be so many different opportunities to learn more about different cultures that are around us."

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Galindo, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, was one of five young women from the O’odham, Apache and Navajo tribal cultures vying to become Miss Indian Arizona, Arizona’s newest Native cultural ambassador.

The scholarship program entered its 60th year in 2021 as it and other tribal royalty pageants like it emerged from COVID-19 restrictions and nearly two years of uncertainty. The young women — and in some cases, young men — served royalty terms despite the pandemic's effects on personal appearances.

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Indigenous pageants in Arizona defy the ' Indian Princess ' myth , stressing culture and leadership .

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Tribal royalty pageants showcase young Indigenous women who defy the  "Indian princess" myth.

Such pageants retain some components of their mainstream counterparts. Participants model evening wear, undergo interviews and the titleholders are given crowns.

Many tribal royalty titleholders are also veteran pageant participants. Galindo has held five other royal titles, and some Miss Indian Arizona title holders go on to compete in their own tribal pageants, or in regional or national pageants. But that's where the similarities end.

Tribal royalty crowns are beaded, woven or crafted from silver and turquoise. The talent competition is based on tribal culture and history. In addition to evening wear, the contestants showcase traditional Indigenous clothing and are expected to explain the significance of each facet of their regalia. And each titleholder must uphold exemplary moral standards throughout her or his reign.

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The Indian princess is usually a stereotypical and usually inaccurate representation of Native American or other Indigenous woman of the Americas. The term " princess " was often mistakenly applied to the daughters of tribal chiefs or other community leaders by early American colonists who

Indigenous pageants in Arizona defy the ' Indian Princess ' myth , stressing culture and leadership . The Miss Indian Arizona program is 60 years old, but it is also part of a new movement as Indigenous royalty serve as cultural ambassadors.

Some tribal royalty go on to become leaders in their communities and even on the national stage. At least one titleholder, Vivian Juan-Saunders, became chairwoman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Others have gone on to corporate or academic success, and many have served as tribal council members or other tribal leadership roles.

And through it all there's the overall cultural component.

"I think the biggest thing that makes our pageants different from nontribal pageants would be our culture," Galindo said. "The main goal is letting people know who we are as Indigenous people."

Over 6 decades, Miss Indian Arizona evolves

The Miss Indian Arizona competition isn’t the oldest of its type in Arizona — that distinction goes to Miss Navajo Nation — but it has endured and grown to become one of the Southwest's most respected tribal royalty programs over its six-decade history.

Veronica Homer was crowned the first Miss Indian Arizona at the Arizona State Fair in 1961. © Mark Henle/The Republic Veronica Homer was crowned the first Miss Indian Arizona at the Arizona State Fair in 1961.

The first Miss Indian Arizona pageant was held during the Arizona State Fair in 1961. Veronica Homer, who won the first title at age 17, said the program was the idea of Charles Garland, then the fair’s director. The state sponsored the program for five years and after that, various tribal communities provided the venues, with sponsorship by the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, the State Fair Commission and tribes, including Homer's own, the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

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The program regrouped and organized itself as the Miss Indian Arizona Association at the turn of the 21st century to ensure it continued its mission of supporting young Native women pursuing higher education and community service.

Homer's sister, Denise, currently serves as director of the association that holds the program and says Miss Indian Arizona also became a scholarship program. Each participant receives a small cash award for competing, with scholarships given to the three members of the court and in other categories such as essays, traditional regalia and traditional talent presentations.

Veronica Homer says the Miss Indian Arizona pageant was the idea of Charles Garland, then the fair’s director. The state sponsored the program for five years. © Mark Henle/The Republic Veronica Homer says the Miss Indian Arizona pageant was the idea of Charles Garland, then the fair’s director. The state sponsored the program for five years.

Other tribes hold their own pageants, with some of those title holders later joining the Miss Indian Arizona court, or vice versa. Shaandiin Parrish, who recently served as Miss Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and became a symbol of tribal response to the disease, was the 2016-17 Miss Indian Arizona. The recently crowned Miss Navajo Nation, Niagara Rockbridge, held the Miss Indian Arizona title from 2018-19. Other tribal royalty have moved on to the statewide royalty court.

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Recently, young men and boys have competed for royalty. Arizona State University among other institutions now has a Mr. Indigenous ASU who serves alongside Ms. Indigenous ASU.

'Pretty Flower' works for new royalty title

Skehg' Giosik (pronounced Skugh Ki-AH-sik) Galindo was competing in the Miss Indian Arizona program for the second time. She competed the first time in 2015.

Like most of this year's other four contestants, Galindo came to the program with royalty experience.

“If the crown is placed on me for the Court of Miss Indian Arizona, it would be my sixth time holding a position of an ambassador or royalty,” she said.

At age 6, she was named Little Miss Salt River Rodeo, followed by Salt River Rodeo Princess at 8. Galindo won the position of First Attendant for the Red Mountain Eagle Powwow Princess pageant. In her freshman year, she became Junior Miss Salt River, and moved on to win the Miss Salt River title in her senior year.

A student at Scottsdale Community College majoring in business management, Galindo wants to work her way up the ranks of the tribal government, eventually becoming a community manager.

She said her family has been incredibly supportive of her royalty pursuits, including shopping and purchasing dresses or having them made. Even mundane acts like ironing her dresses and making sure she has everything she needs is helpful, Galindo said, "but they're also there to support me and let me know things are going to be OK — 'You got this, everything will be OK.'"

Galindo was also grateful for help from Salt River Vice President Leonard Harvier, who taught her the traditional O'odham song she planned to present as her talent offering.

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"He's taught me the meaning of the song and gave me pointers on what I can do and how I can incorporate it all into the two-minute time they give us," she said.

Crowns, regalia reflect tribal values, cultures

Tribal royalty crowns have evolved from store-bought tiaras to creations that serve in themselves as another way to showcase tribal cultures and pride.

Tribes in southern Arizona honor their royalty with woven crowns, while Arizona's most well-known ambassador, Miss Navajo Nation, wears a signature silver and turquoise coronet. Other tribes commission artists to make beaded crowns rich with historical and cultural touchpoints such as tribal seals and cultural designs unique to each tribal community.

One visible sign of Miss Indian Arizona's new organizational structure was replacing its old silver and turquoise crown with a beaded crown that reflected its commitment to representing all 22 tribes in Arizona.

Valerie Welsh-Tahbo, a former Colorado River Indian Tribes council member, created the design from which the current beaded crown is made. Welsh-Tahbo, who now directs the CRIT Museum & Gift Shop, said she was asked to create a logo for the revamped association.

"So I went home and I started thinking about it," she said. Grabbing her colored pencils and paper, she looked at the Arizona flag for inspiration for what she called a simple and bold design.

"The state flag's colors are radiant sunsets and sunrises," Welsh-Tahbo said. "I thought to myself, 'Why don't I just kind of filter and gradually filter them into the feathers representing the tribes of Arizona?'" The large feather in the center of the crown represents the title holder.

Welsh-Tahbo took that concept to a graphic artist, who refined the design. A local bead artist took the design to make the first beaded crown. The first Miss Indian Arizona to be crowned with the creation was Victoria Quintero in 2000. Later on, the association asked Welsh-Tahbo, a talented bead artist in her own right, to make crowns because her work most closely honors the design she worked out.

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Welsh-Tahbo beaded the latest crown, created for the pageant's 60th anniversary, incorporating larger rhinestones for the feather tips for extra bling. Pageant officials quickly discerned a quirk in the design: Welsh-Tahbo had accidentally used glow-in-the-dark seed beads for the design. After working on the crown for an evening, she turned off the light illuminating her work.

"I turned back and I was like, 'Wait a minute!'" She decided to leave them on as a "secret" feature.

Tribal royalty leads to leadership

Homer, the first Miss Indian Arizona, quickly found that the title opened up new opportunities. She was invited to lead the Arizona Inter-Tribal Band at the inaugural parade for President John F. Kennedy. In 1969, Homer was elected vice-chair of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and served on the council for many years. Later, she was the first woman elected to be president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Other title holders’ experiences echo Veronica Homer’s own post-royalty path.

Violet Duncan credited her term as Miss Indian World 2006-07 for supporting her growth as an educator, cultural performer and author. Duncan, who is Plains Cree and Taino, and a member of the Kehewin Cree Nation in northeastern Alberta, said she entered the pageant as an experiment for her political science class. It was her first time competing in a tribal pageant.

Duncan, then Violet John, was happy to learn she had won the essay portion of the contest, held each April during the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque. She said she was impressed with what the judges, who included university professors and people with doctorates, were looking for.

“The Native pageants aren’t about beauty standards,” Duncan said. “The judges are evaluating the contestants’ education and cultural know-how, and our knowledge of our attire.”

Winning the title was a shock, she said.

“Literally, my mom and I were just talking about how we're going to come back next year, how we will be better prepared," she said.

Duncan said her mother dropped her camera and started crying, and her dad said it was the best year of his life.

A grueling year, with rich rewards later

Each royalty title holder is subject to stringent rules during a year of appearances. They're asked to deliver speeches, make appearances at powwows, tribal gatherings, conferences, rodeos, governmental events and other such events.

They're expected to speak on and give support to their platforms. They travel nearly every week and tote along a large array of outfits and regalia to be ready for both planned or spontaneous appearances.

They're also expected to be drug- and alcohol-free. They're not allowed to date or be married, and they observe other regulations regarding behavior. One early Miss Indian Arizona had to relinquish her title when she married in the middle of her reign.

Duncan said serving as a cultural ambassador was a grueling, oftentimes lonely year of appearances, speeches and events. But holding the title also opened doors for her after her reign ended. Duncan has been a speaker and special guest at many conferences, where she speaks about honoring elders and supporting children through early education.

Her reign also changed her life in a personal sense. During her reign, Duncan met Tony Duncan, a San Carlos Apache who also has Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara heritage. Tony is a member of the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers, a world champion hoop dancer and musician. Because of strict rules regarding title holders’ conduct, “no matter how cute Tony was, I couldn’t talk to him until after my reign.”

But after Violet crowned the next Miss Indian World, the pair made up for lost time and married a short time later. The couple has four children, ages 12, 10, 8 and 5.

She also performs with both the Yellow Bird group and individually, and she appeared in a Nelly Furtado video with husband Tony and brother-in-law Kevin in 2013. Duncan currently serves as the Indigenous cultural adviser at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

The Chandler Center for the Arts’ auditorium is usually packed with family and friends of the Miss Indian Arizona contestants, but due to COVID-19 protocols, the 2021 pageant was notable for the huge number of empty seats. Each participant was allowed just two family members. The event was livestreamed so people who couldn't attend in person could watch.

SuNigh Louise Antone of the Tohono O'odham Nation (from left), Lorraine Renee Cooley of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community, Vanessa Sloan Lister of the Navajo Nation and Skehg' Hiosik Amber Ariel Galindo of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community line up in front of judges during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021. © Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic SuNigh Louise Antone of the Tohono O'odham Nation (from left), Lorraine Renee Cooley of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community, Vanessa Sloan Lister of the Navajo Nation and Skehg' Hiosik Amber Ariel Galindo of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community line up in front of judges during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021.

The program included each of the five contestants introducing themselves to the audience in a two-minute video. Next, they showed their style in evening wear, showcased traditional regalia complete with an explanation of each piece's cultural context and a traditional talent competition. Previously, the five women had been interviewed by the judges and wrote an essay on their platform.

Galindo presented the history behind an O'odham song called, "What Kind of Flower." She also did a short presentation of the dance that accompanied the song.

Another contestant, former Miss San Carlos Apache Lorraine Cooley, explained traditional Apache medicinal plants with an accompanying song. Cooley is studying for medical school.

Galindo's platform was mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Other contestants promoted higher education, avoiding drugs and alcohol or practicing self-care.

Next was the traditional regalia display and short presentation. Galindo donned a 19th-century-style everyday O'odham dress made from simple blue-checked cotton covered by a white muslin apron. She went barefoot for her walk, as O'odham women rarely wore shoes around the home. She balanced an olla perched on a circlet of muslin on her head.

Another O'odham contestant, SuNigh Antone of the Tohono O'odham Nation, also wore a cotton dress and headscarf but added cowhide sandals to her outfit. She carried a kukuipad, the traditional O'odham saguaro fruit harvesting stick crafted from saguaro ribs.

Finally, the judges, all former Miss Indian Arizona royalty, handed in their ballots. The five young women lined up on the stage, and the retiring Miss Indian Arizona, Amy Spotted Wolf of the Tohono O'odham Nation offered a song, then made her final walk on the stage.

Spotted Wolf, a third-grade teacher in the nation, and her first attendant helped present the awards. Spotted Wolf was first attendant for the 2019-2020 term, but was named Miss Indian Arizona for 2020-2021 in an online ceremony. She made online appearances during her term due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Miss Congeniality went to Vanessa Lister, a member of the Navajo Nation. Cooley received the Community Service award for her volunteer efforts. Alyse Marrietta,the current Miss Gila River Indian Community, won the essay award. Galindo won for Best Evening Wear. The talent award went to Lister for a Navajo song.

Then the court was announced. Each member of the court received a scholarship, gift baskets, a blanket, facial products, a sash, a floral arrangement and a hug from the retiring titleholder, Spotted Wolf.

Lorraine Cooley was named second attendant. Skehg' Giosik Galindo was named first attendant. And Alyse Marrietta, who would be required to relinquish her title as Miss Gila River to serve, was named Miss Indian Arizona.

Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community speaks to attendees after being crowned Miss Indian Arizona 2021-2022 during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021. © Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic Alyse Marrietta of the Gila River Indian Community speaks to attendees after being crowned Miss Indian Arizona 2021-2022 during the 60th Miss Indian Arizona pageant at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Oct. 9, 2021.

In addition to other gifts, Marrietta received luggage for her travels and a specially embroidered shawl. As the all-important beaded crown was placed on her head, she blinked back tears. Marrietta, whose platform was to encourage people to practice self-care and connect them with mental health resources, plans on obtaining an advanced degree in American Indian studies after graduating from Arizona State University with an arts and design degree.

Galindo beamed as the sash was draped over one shoulder and the flowers placed in her arms. She seemed thrilled to become first attendant, and soon could be seen on Miss Indian Arizona's Facebook page dancing attendance on various events, proudly displaying her sash.

Debra Krol reports on Indigenous communities at the confluence of climate, culture and commerce in Arizona and the Intermountain West. Reach Krol on Twitter at @debkrol.

Coverage of Indigenous issues at the intersection of climate, culture and commerce is supported by the Catena Foundation and the Water Funder Initiative.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Indigenous pageants in Arizona defy the 'Indian Princess' myth, stressing culture and leadership

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