Celebrating 60 years

Former Miss Navajos recall long history of pageant

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 16, 2012

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I n 1952, when Dr. Beulah Allen and six other Navajo girls were teenagers, they stood on a stage in front of a large crowd. A man approached each woman raising his hand just above her head and the crowd cheered.

After receiving the most cheers Allen and another contestant stepped forward and the man repeated his actions. It was clear at that point who had won over the crowd and who would be named the first Miss Navajo - Allen.

"That's how it was done back then," said Allen, now 75, in a phone interview with the Times. "As soon as the fair was over we went back to our usual lives. I received some jewelry, nothing other than that. No crown."

Now, 60 years later, the Miss Navajo Nation title has become the most coveted for Navajo women.

During the annual Navajo Nation Fair, women from different parts of the nation put on their best velveteen, silk, and floral print skirts and blouses, and turquoise jewelry to take part in a weeklong competition, with the winner being named Miss Navajo Nation.

Winning the title does not come easily as each contestant must answer difficult questions in Navajo, present a traditional and contemporary skill and talent, and test their butchering skills.

The traditional and contemporary talents stemmed from a time when the Miss Navajo title was separated into two different titles, the Miss Modern Navajo and the Miss Traditional Navajo, lasting from 1956 to 1963.

Vivian Arviso, 70, was crowned Miss Modern Navajo in 1958.

"For the modern, we had to show our skills at sewing on an electric sewing machine," Arviso recalled. "That was terrifying for me because I didn't know how to use an electric machine. It had just been invented."

Arviso had to answer a question that seemingly could not be foreseen back then - whether or not she believed books were going to become non-existent.

"I answered the question with books would never go out of style," said Arviso laughing. "I love books. I just didn't see books becoming extinct under the changes that technology was bringing."

Like Allen, Arviso's responsibilities ended when the fair did.

As the pageant progressed, each agency had a contest within their region and the winner chosen went to represent the agency at the Miss Navajo pageant in Window Rock.

"This happened all the way until the 80's," said Sarah Johnson Luther, Miss Navajo 66-67. "The agencies then started having lack of funding and lack of participants. That was when they opened it up to anybody willing to participate."

Though the standards have risen with each year's competition, previous titleholders notice a decrease in the language.

"You can find that there are some ladies who were chosen to be Miss Navajo that didn't speak Navajo fluently," said Luther, 64.

"I mean there were women that knew the basics of introducing themselves but that was the extent of it," she added. "We just hope that it comes back as a necessity, to motivate our children to learn it."

The Miss Navajo Nation pageant will honor its 60th year with trivia and facts about the pageant over the years.