Three Diné eye Miss Indian World crown

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 25, 2013

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T hree Diné women are competing in this year's Miss Indian World pageant in hopes of becoming the next ambassador for Indian Country. This year's contestants include Kansas Begay, 24, April Yazza, 18, and Shelby Williams, 19.

Begay is originally from Waterflow, N.M., where she held her first title as Miss Tse'Daa'Kaan of Hogback Chapter House when she was 10. She is Red Bottom Clan born for the Many Hogans Clan.

Begay said after earning titles like Miss Indian Teen World and Miss Indian University of New Mexico, she decided to take a shot at the Miss Indian World title.

"The whole title for Miss Indian World is really having to bring unity for all Native nations together," Begay said.

"I would like to gain a lot of knowledge about the other cultures, and possibly even make some friends," Begay said. It's an opportunity "to really learn a lot of new cultures around the world. It's just a really great experience to go through."

Begay said her platform is to raise cultural awareness and to encourage the youth to pursue a higher education.

"Every individual in a Native community has that opportunity to make something of themselves," she said, "and I believe having positive role models, such as Miss Indian World, really gives them positive thinking."

Begay graduated in 2011 from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies, and she currently works for the New Mexico Dental Association as the membership director.

Begay is also a Native American recording artist, having recorded four albums, two of which were nominated for Native American Music Awards.

Williams is from Elko, Nev. She is part Walker River Paiute, Western Shoshone and Navajo, with roots from Chinle through her grandfather, Benjamin Platerio.

"I just want to show everyone that I am proud that I am a mixed Native," Williams said. "I wanted to come here representing each and every one of them."

She has held four titles including Miss Walker River 2003-2004 and Miss Elko Band Powwow Princess from 2011-2012. She said it was during her reign as Miss Walker River at age 10 that she decided to one day run for Miss Indian World.

Williams is enrolled at Great Basin College in Elko, Nev., majoring in psychology.

"We want to see our people succeed," Williams said. "We all have different experiences and it gives us reason to be mentors for our youth. We just all want to be a positive role model."

Williams said as Miss Indian World she would focus on efforts toward anti-violence and hate crimes. She wanted to focus on this platform because of her personal experience.

Rather than getting angry, Williams said, "I think we need to learn that there are easier ways to resolve things. We all have differences and we need to respect that. Having that general respect for one another is how were going to succeed in Indian Country."

Unlike the other contestants, Yazza, who is originally from Tseyahtoh, N.M. but currently resides in Albuquerque, said her main inspiration for participating in the Miss Indian World competition is the fact that she's never held a title before.

"I wanted to do it for the experience," Yazza said adding that growing up in Albuquerque she's noticed how big a deal the Gathering of Nations is, and she thought she would give it a try.

Yazza said what she looks forward to most about the competition is meeting all the other contestants.

"There are a lot of different tribes and I'm excited to see who comes here to New Mexico," she said.

She said if she is lucky enough to walk away with the title, her platform will focus on the importance of education.

"I want to show that education is everything," she said. "What I really want to push is education."

Yazza is currently a senior at West Mesa High in Albuquerque where she is the president of the Computer Graphics and Native clubs. She is Red Running into the Water People Clan, and born for the Zuni Clan.

The Miss Indian World Pageant is considered to be the largest and most significant cultural pageant for Native women between the ages of 18 and 25. Each contestant will compete in four different areas: public speaking, personal interview, traditional presentation, dance and essay.

Each contestant will be judged in each category based on cultural knowledge.

The winner will spend one year traveling extensively throughout the U.S., Canada and internationally.

"As Miss Indian World, she will become a role model to young and old and help to educate and demonstrate the beauty and diversity of Native American culture as well as represent the Gathering of Nations throughout her travels," according to the Gathering of Nations Web site.

The pageant kicks off tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with the contestants presenting their traditional talents at 7 p.m.

The events will continue throughout the weekend ending with the crowning on Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pit.