After all the drums have been heard, the next phase of the pow wow begins for the young tribal princesses who are honored for their beauty, intellect and leadership abilities.
It is not just a beauty queen contest. The princesses should be ready to be role models.The Cherokee Nation, for example, stresses that to win the competition, the contestants are judged on their knowledge of language and culture.
It’s a dream to be crowned a Native princess for many young ladies like Mashpee Wampanoag Princess Sassamin Weeden, who ran every year until she took the coveted crown last year. “This was my dream, and I was not ready to give up on it.” But being crowned also requires much personal reflection. “It’s about being the best role model you can be—that a little girl looks up to and say: ‘Wow, I want to be just like her one day!’” Weeden said.
On each of their young shoulders is the responsibility to carry on the message of their tribal culture and traditions, and with it, their own personal views on women’s empowerment, higher education and good community.
ICTMN listened in to what some of the reigning princesses are thinking. We asked: “What will be your main focus as a Native beauty queen this 2015?” Drum roll, please.
Miss Indian World
Taylor Thomas, Ft. Hall, Idaho, Shoshone Bannock
“As an ambassador representing many Indian communities, my focus throughout my reign has been Indian youth and women’s empowerment. My time as Miss Indian World 2014-2015 has given me the opportunity to travel to Native communities in Indian Country and share a message of everyone having a purpose.
“When our world was created by our Creator, he gave every plant, animal, and person a purpose, medicine, and strength to help one another, and build our communities to be strong. The Creator has gifted each and every one of us with a purpose. To my Indian youth, we are not leaders of tomorrow, but we are leaders of today. As youth we see many problems our Indian communities face, and it is up to us to make the difference.
To my Native woman, dream big! Indian women are strong and sacred beings who have much knowledge and wisdom to share with the world. Women are leaders of all aspects, and I encourage all women to pursue their dreams, even if it may be in a male dominated field where little to no other Native women reside.”
Sunday Plumb, Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Cherokee
“My role as Miss Cherokee is to be a goodwill and cultural ambassador for the Cherokee Nation. In 2015, I would like to focus on my platform, the Cherokee College Retention Initiative.
I see many young Cherokees plan for and even attend college; however they do not complete their degree. I want to help change that by talking to as many Cherokee high school seniors as I can about what to expect and how to succeed in college. I want to see the Cherokee Nation continue the tradition of higher education.”
Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow Princess
Sassamin Weeden, Mashpee, Massachusetts, Mashpee Wampanoag
“No matter the size of your dream, big or small, never be afraid to pursue whatever it is. It may take more time than what you have hoped for, but with patience comes good things. This is something I wish to teach our next seven generations.
My main focus for 2015 is to give back to my community— lending a hand to my elders in need, and teaching our tribal youth traditional songs and dances as I was taught growing up. Lastly, I want to bring unity to my tribal people.”
Poarch Creek Indians Senior Princess
Caitlyn Barnhill, Atmore, Alabama, The Poarch Band of Creek Indians
“My main focus for 2015 will be to help preserve my tribe’s culture by encouraging our youth to become more involved. By doing so, we can rest assured that our traditions aren’t dying, but are being carried on for future generations.”
Miss Native American USA
Becoming crowned was quite personal for 19-year old April Yazza, a Navajo and Zuni, who won the third annual 2014 Miss Native American USA pageant in Tempe, Arizona. Because she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis earlier on, she has made it her mission to make people aware of the medical condition. “That was a big awakening for me,” Yazza told ICTMN in August. “Before that, I didn’t exercise, didn’t watch what I ate. I realized I had to make changes, and now I really want to promote that among Native people.”