The Miss American Indian USU Pageant broke the stereotypes of evening gowns, bikinis and big blonde hair.
Along with the annual Pow-wow, it’s one of the longest standing traditions for the Native American Club.
“It’s just about creating diversity and educating the public and helping them to understand that there’s cultural differences at USU and in Cache Valley,” said Alicia Olea, an intern for the Access and Diversity Center. “The main categories are traditional talents, where they represent something unique to their tribe. Then they have their contemporary talents which can be anything from poetry to singing, dancing, recitals, monologue —anything.”
The pageant is focused more on how they represent their tribes, Olea said.
This year was different because at the last minute only two girls were able to compete. Consequently, before the pageant they were able to meet the and give a brief background of themselves to the judges. Those involved felt it was more personal and focused on the girls’ individual identities as Native Americans.
“The girls have to know their culture,” said Penelope Pinnecoose, one of the judges, “They have to emphasize what they’re wanting to do to better themselves. They have to understand that being a contestant isn’t just being a queen, but you’re representing Utah State University.”
She said it would be more difficult to judge this pageant because there were only two girls.
“The comparison is going to be hard because they’re two different tribes, and they have different backgrounds,” Pinnecoose said.
The different backgrounds were distinct. The first contestant, Courtney Muir from the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, started the pageant off with her Contemporary talent, Zumba dancing. She teaches a class on campus and her students joined her on the stage.
The second contestant, Jalynn Jones from the Navajo tribe, showed the audience a Cradle Board demonstration.
“It should come naturally to them,” Pinnecoose said. “They’re just showing us what they know about themselves. Really it’s an identity thing.”
In the Traditional Talent section, their identity and background came to life. Muir showed the audience her beadwork, and Jones showed how to spin wool. Both talents came from traditions passed down through the girls’ families.
The girls were then questioned about their culture, the problems their tribes face and what they would do to make it better.
“If they’re confident in knowing their culture, it’s going to come naturally,” Pinnecoose said.
After the competition the outgoing Miss American Indian USU Sarah Francom gave a short presentation about her opportunity to be a part of the program and expressed her thanks.
Then the decision was announced.
Jones was chosen as Miss American Indian USU 2015. She said the whole thing felt surreal.
“It’s definitely a surprise,” Jones said. “When the competition came up I thought, I can actually do that. It gave me a chance to represent my culture.”
Jones has ideas for how to expand the service she does at the Cache Valley Humane Society. She plans to take this win home to show those of her culture that she succeeded and be an example that they can do it too.