This past Saturday marked the 60th anniversary of the Miss Navajo pageant. Oh, and you can forget the swimwear, stilettos and tiaras, this isn’t your typical beauty pageant. These women, draped in customary Navajo dress and signature turquoise jewelry, had to pass through a series of tests, including both modern and traditional talent competitions, all to earn the coveted title that represents the Navajo people, North America’s largest tribe.
In order to be eligible for the pageant, contestants must be unmarried, over 18 years old, a high school graduate, and be able to speak the traditional Navajo language. But, instead of the usual dancing and singing we’re accustomed to seeing in the Miss America pageant, this competition requires proficiency in some more “unique” skills such as, fry-bread making, rug weaving, sheep butchering, answering questions in Navajo, and performing a Navajo cultural talent. Yes, we said sheep butchering, which was added to the requirements in 1995 as a way to further preserve the more traditional Navajo customs, along with the women building a fire in their respective fire pits.
Founded in 1952 the mission of the Miss Navajo pageant is to uphold the Navajo culture, and the role of Miss Navajo is to represent the essence of the Nation’s legends - First Woman, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman. Contestants were here to prove their understanding of Navajo customs, and to display leadership. Wallitta Begay, one of this year’s contestants, put it perfectly, “It’s an essence of who you are and who your family is, who your community is, and you’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing your community … when you compete, and once you get the title, you’re representing an entire nation.”
Now these are women we would call role models! Mr. Trump… are you listening?