Monday, September 16, 2013

A Crowning Achievement

Ophelia Hu, Reader to Reader’s Navajo Outreach Coordinator, had a unique honor bestowed on her recently.

Last week, I had the honor of judging the Miss Utah Navajo Pageant. Pageants are a foreign world to me, and I knew little beyond the Q & A slip-ups of former Miss Americas and the terrors of Toddlers and Tiaras.

But pageants in the Navajo Nation are serious. These women can butcher sheep, build fires, learn a wealth of songs and dances, showcase their artistry and language and cultural know-how, and are called upon to be lifelong forces of change for their tribe. They come from a wealth of backgrounds and consider their education and the education of others a critical priority. These women are strong.

Present as an example to these women was Miss Indian World 2013-2014, Kansas Begay, who was also the first Navajo Miss Indian World.

Upon relinquishing the crown, Miss Navajo's responsibilities continue for a lifetime. No air-headed Q & A, stilettos, or bikinis here. The talent portion of Miss Utah Navajo included both "modern" and "traditional" portions and included powwow dances, artistic showcases, and presentations about bullying. Navajo comedienne and storyteller Sunny Dooley served as the night's emcee and constantly brought the audience to uproarious laughter in two languages under two minutes. Instead of a summer-wear competition, the contestants were asked to present traditional wear, which consisted of elaborate silver and gemstone jewelry, most of which was handmade, and velveteen and self-sewn rug dresses. All contestants donned buckskin moccasins and traditional hair buns.

At times I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to be allowed to judge, but it was an experience I'm glad to have witnessed. I'm so thankful to the First Lady's Office and the Miss Navajo Council for letting me be a part of this great celebration of womanhood.

Reader to Reader’s Navajo Outreach Coordinator is funded through the generous support of the Fordham Street Foundation, the Hiatt Family Foundation, and Jean and Lynn Miller.)  

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