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70 years of Miss Navajo Nation: History, part 1 of a series

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three-part series on Naabeehó Bich’eekį, the Miss Navajo Nation pageant.


The Miss Navajo Nation pageant began in 1952 when Dr. Beulah Melvin Allen was crowned as the first titleholder, and since then, the pageant has undergone many changes.

When Allen was crowned, it was during an era when the new royalty was chosen based on audience applause.

Choosing Miss Navajo by applause changed because of Charlotte Lawrence Greenstone, the 1954-58 titleholder, who was the first and only one to hold the coveted title for three consecutive terms.

However, that was not the only change made during the beginning of the pageant.

Agency queens

In 1957, the title of Miss Navajo was separated into two titles: Miss Modern Navajo and Miss Traditional Navajo.

The goal of the dual titleholders was to represent the two lives that Navajo women must live in modern society.

However, the dual titles did not last long, and the pageant returned to a single titleholder in 1963.

Marla Billey, the 2003-04 titleholder, said during this time, the Miss Navajo contestants used to be chosen from each agency’s queen.

“Back then, what they used to do is they used to kind of get the Miss Navajo from the agencies like Miss Northern, Miss Eastern, Miss Western,” she said.

This happened from the 1960s to the 1970s, according to Billey.

Even the Miss Navajo organization itself went through many changes. Billey said an office in Shiprock once looked everything over; then it moved to Window Rock, where at one point it was under the jurisdiction of Parks and Recreation.

Inception of Miss Navajo office

Finally, from 1987 to 1989, the Office of Miss Navajo Nation was introduced.

This was not the only change made to the pageant during the 1980s. During this time, traditional and contemporary skills and talent completions were also introduced.

While the Office of Miss Navajo Nation was being integrated into the pageant, it was placed under the legislative branch from 1989 to 2000 before transitioning under the executive branch, where it remains today.

The changes do not stop there.

During this time, specifically in 1996, the famous butchering competition was introduced to demonstrate the contestants’ knowledge of preparing traditional foods.

While the pageant held off on adding new competitions for the next 20 years, when the frybread competition was replaced in 2016 with traditional foods, the changes around the organization did not stop.

The Miss Navajo Council Inc. was formed into a nonprofit organization soon after Billey’s reign in 2004.

According to the council’s website, it was formed to promote the preservation of Navajo culture, tradition, and language. And it was created to foster relationships between former Miss Navajo Nations and the Diné community.

Each former Miss Navajo automatically becomes a council member once she finishes her reign. Within this council, they organize many events, such as workshops and lectures.

“Once you’re Miss Navajo, you’re always Miss Navajo,” Billey said.

About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.


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