New Miss Navajo crown evokes tradition

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 12, 2011

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(Times photos - Marley Shebala)

TOP: The new crown for Miss Navajo Nation 2011-12 features symbols that carry traditional meanings.

BOTTOM: Symbols on the new Miss Navajo Nation crown include the Treaty of 1868 and the Navajo Code Talkers. (Times photo - Marley Shebala)

Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise unveiled a new Miss Navajo Nation crown, valued at about $18,000, on Wednesday.

The winner of the Miss Navajo Nation 2011-12 title will be the first to wear the pure silver, turquoise, white shell and coral creation.

The front of the crown is about 7.5 inches high, and the design centers on the great seal of the Navajo Nation.

NACE Marketing Director T.J. Willie said past crowns also displayed the seal but this is the first seal that is all hand cut. The other crowns had pre-made seals that were then attached to the crown, he explained.

The hand-cut silver captures all the intricate details of the seal, including the 48 arrowheads surrounding a rainbow, two cornstalks, the sun, the four sacred mountains, a horse, cow and sheep.

The rainbow, which represents the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, is a raised band of silver.

The seal is surrounded with a stamped design of braided silver that is connected by delicate silver balls. Three distinct lines erupt from each of the 23 silver balls.

Twenty-one clusters of old-style stamped silver flowers lined the front top of the crown, lending the solid feel of an old-fashioned cast bracelet. The crown itself, however, weighs less than a pound.

The design incorporates different colored stones to represent each of the four sacred mountains.

Small cabochons of black jet are set just below the seal, to the right and left.

These are joined by larger pieces of turquoise, white shell and red coral, the latter representing "protection," Willie said. To one side is a cross stamped in silver.

"That represents the religious side of the Navajo people and balances everything," he said.

Below the black stones, white shell and coral are the hand cut words, "Naabeeho Bich'eeke'," the Navajo term for Miss Navajo Nation, according to the explanation given to NACE General Manager Barbara McGough and Willie.

Willie said some individuals suggested using Dine Bich'eeke' but that translation is more of a masculine possessive term.

The new crown is the work of Jimmy Brown, a silversmith working at the enterprise's flagship store in Window Rock. Brown, who is from Twin Lakes, N.M., said it took him seven days to make.

He said he did a lot of research on the history of the Miss Navajo Nation crowns and found that only one of the crowns used the old-style of silver making, which involves hand-cut silver.

Brown said the hardest part of making the new crown was the soldering.

Willie said the enterprise had its silversmiths from all seven stores submit designs for the crown, and that the final design reflects a bit of each of the designs.

There are two images on each side of the crown. One image represents the Treaty of 1868.

"That was good," Brown said. "It kept us from losing our land."

The other images are of a Navajo Code Talker, the Four Corners, and a locust, which represents the people's emergence into the Fourth World.

McGough said the Four Corners represents the land base of the Navajo people.

At the back of the crown is a detachable silver comb is in the shape of a large shell. Willie said the shell symbolizes White Shell Woman.

"The last thing I made was the detachable shell comb because it's for the protection of Miss Navajo," said Brown, who is Tabaaha (Edge Water Clan) and Tachii'nii (Red Running into the Water Clan).

Willie noted that the new crown is the first one produced by the tribal enterprise. Work on it began soon after Winifred Bessie Jumbo won the title last September.

Last year was the first year that NACE hosted the Miss Navajo Nation Pageant. It was also the first year that the new Miss Navajo was not crowned during the tribal fair night performance at Dean C. Jackson Memorial Arena.

Jumbo instead was crowned in a tent erected just north of the NACE store in Window Rock. This year's pageant is being held in a much larger tent in the same location, where the unveiling of the new crown also took place.

Information: 928-871-4090.

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