The 25-year-old Arizona State University law school student Danielle Ta’ Sheena Finn (Standing Rock Sioux) was chosen as 2016 Miss Indian World April 30. Finn, who competed against 23 other young women, also won Best Public Speaker honors in this year’s competition. Throughout her year-long reign, Finn will be speaking on two of Indian country’s most important issues, language preservation and suicide prevention.
In her first public address, Finn stated, “I chose [to speak out on] suicide prevention even before the epidemic in [Ontario’s First Nation Community of Attawapiskat]. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native youth. For me, it’s personal. The Great Sioux Nation has had a massive epidemic of suicides. Standing Rock has had several states of emergency declared because of suicide epidemics. Sometimes, there were as many as 20 in one month. I grew up knowing that was something I wanted to stop. We need to be strong, together.
“Every 14 days, an Indigenous language dies,” Finn said. “While I was in college, I volunteered as a language teacher in Head Start. I taught basic Lakota language to 3-5 year olds. I really want to go talk to the youth. And, focus on cultural maintenance and making sure that they speak the language. I feel that language and culture are inter-connected. You have to know your language. Once you’re culturally connected, you become a very balanced person.”
This was not Finn’s first time vying for the crown. She first tried for itran two years ago, and says that . That experience proved invaluable. “I believe that if at first you don’t succeed, you must try again. I learned more about confidence. And, I learned more about just putting myself out there. … I felt like I was really prepared. Just overall confidence is what I learned.”
First runner-up honors went to Chezney Martin (Seneca) of Hagersville, Ontario, Canada, who also earned Best Traditional Presentation honors. “The reason I came here was to present myself in a manner that was respectful towards my culture, towards my people and towards my community Martin said. I came here to meet women that were strong, from their respective communities, to create a network–make friends and build relationships with [them]. Because we all have something in common: we want the preservation and the continuity of who we are. I share that with these two [young women] sitting beside me. I’m proud that I was able to come this far. But, I want to let you know that it’s really not about winning. Even though I did not win and [Ms. Cote Tolley] did not win, we’re still going to go back to our communities to provide more for [them].”
Caitlin Cote Tolley (Algonquin and Anishinabe) was named as second runner-up. She had words of encouragement for the Native community, as well. “I would like to encourage young people to take up leadership opportunities in their tribal communities. I’d like to challenge young Indigenous women, specifically, to take up these leadership opportunities within their communities.”
Finn finished her address with these tearful words: “I want to say how grateful I am to be here. I’m the first [winner] from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. And, this was really all about [them]. I really came here to represent them the best that I could.”