‘Beacon of hope’: Parrish looks back on year of pandemic
When the coronavirus swarmed across the Navajo Nation last year, Shaandiin Paul Parrish had to adjust her duties as Miss Navajo Nation.
Parrish said the virus took a toll on her mental health as the weeks of shelter-in-place orders dragged on and the rising levels of stress got harder to ignore. But she didn’t let that slow her down.
“It did affect me,” she said.
Parrish said she spent most of her time last year locked up in her apartment in Tsébigháhoodzání.
Even though her family in Tódinéeshzhee’ and in Naatsis’áán could have traveled the more than two hours to be with her, she wouldn’t allow it because she wanted them to be safe.
“So, from March 2020 to September 2020, I was living (in insolation) and the only people I would see were the people I worked with,” Parrish said.
The people she works with are the Miss Navajo office staff and the president’s staff.
“It was difficult, especially in the first month of the pandemic, I didn’t go anywhere,” Parrish said. “I stayed in my apartment. And I worked with Zoom. Logistically thinking about where the pandemic began, it started in my home community.
“So, it was difficult, personally, to – I couldn’t do anything about it,” she said. “I couldn’t go and remedy it and I couldn’t go and save my family.
“I couldn’t go and help the people who needed help,” she said. “And that was really hard to deal with mentally.”
Reign extended a year
Parrish was coronated as Miss Navajo Nation on Sept. 7, 2019, and her reign was extended for another year in 2020 due to the pandemic.
When she was awarded the coveted Naabeehó Bich’eekį’ crown, she had the expectation and excitement of spreading inspiration, goodwill and advocacy to all 110 chapters.
This comes with the crown, but with the pandemic, coronavirus restrictions and tough rules to curb the outbreak, 2020 had other plans for Parrish.
She went from visiting chapters and delivering in-person motivational speeches to distributing food, supplies and information to families.
Parrish became a public information officer for the Navajo Nation Health Command Center for a short time and helped the president’s staff on the front lines by distributing food and supplies to families despite the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
“And to realize that my duty and service as Miss Navajo Nation, to remain poised, to remain calm and to display that publicly was important for our people,” Parrish said. “I knew our people needed that strength and they needed that displayed because we all knew how we felt inside.
“I hope I was that little beacon of hope,” she said. “It was always my duty first regardless of how I was doing emotionally and mentally.”
Returning to school
Parrish will return to school after she passes her crown to the new titleholder.
On top of her Miss Navajo Nation duties last year, Parrish studied for the GMAT, a graduate business school entry exam, and gained admission to the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
“The reason why I chose to go into business was because of all the discussions I’ve been part of as Miss Navajo Nation,” Parrish said. “So I wanted to go to school for a degree that would be applicable to our present issues on the Navajo Nation.
“That’s the reason why I felt that going to business school is a great avenue for me to explore,” she said. “I took this as a challenge to learn something new and the proper way and the best way possible.”
Parrish has a bachelor’s degree in political science from ASU.
She said, “To really bring a personal perspective of my experience, the sacrifice that I made to be Miss Navajo Nation is one that I didn’t take lightly and one that has respected the trajectory of my professional and educational goals in life.”
Before she ran for Miss Navajo, Parrish was the public information officer for Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee in Hoozdo.
Parrish has also worked for the Arizona State Senate where she served as a constituent services liaison, a Senate page captain, and a legislative assistant.
Her background also includes working as a legislative district assistant for the Navajo Nation Council and for the town of Gilbert, Arizona.
‘This is your office’
Because there isn’t a manual on how to be Miss Navajo or a playbook on how to conduct yourself during a pandemic, Parrish went to President Jonathan Nez for advice about how to run her office.
“When I became Miss Navajo, nobody tells you how to be Miss Navajo Nation in general – pandemic or no pandemic,” Parrish said.
“One of the things the president told me after I went to him for advice: ‘Shaandiin, this is your office,’” she said. “‘You decide how you want to be Miss Navajo. You decide how you want your office.’”
Still, she wanted Nez’s direction. Eventually, she took the initiative.
“The way I’ve been able to serve has been genuinely how I love our people,” Parrish said. “And I hope that’s reflected in everything I’ve done as Miss Navajo.
“One thing I think that people don’t take into consideration is that being Miss Navajo Nation is truly a sacrifice of your personal time,” Parrish said. “You could argue that those are best years of somebody’s life, your middle 20s.”
Further reflecting on her role, Parrish said she has grown over a two-year period during a time when leaders across the globe were severely tested.
Some fell short and others, like Parrish, rose to the moment with her crown, tsiiyéél, and kélchí, demonstrating resolve, courage, empathy, and respect.
“I hope, in turn, our people can also see that growth too,” Parrish said. “The growth that I’ve seen has definitely been an interesting one because as Millennials and Gen Zs, our eyes are on TikTok, our eyes are on Instagram and they’re on the outside world.
“And we see the disconnect with our current world on the Navajo Nation,” Parrish said.
“So I hope that people can see – in the way that I was Miss Navajo Nation – that I connected social media to my work,” she said. “It’s possible to continue our way of life in this new age.”
The 69th Miss Navajo Nation pageant begins on Sept. 6 with the sheep-butchering contest at 7 a.m., followed by the traditional food contest at 1 p.m.
The pageant continues Sept. 8 with a business interview at 9 a.m. and a traditional knowledge interview at 1 p.m.
The contemporary and traditional talent and skill competitions are set for Sept. 10. The coronation will take place Sept. 11 at 11 a.m.
Parrish said the competitions have not changed, but the pageant this year will be following all COVID-19 health and safety protocols. And because of these restrictions, no in-person viewing will be allowed.
“We have a very strict restriction on how many people can be there,” Parrish added. “Every one of our events, we’re limiting our personnel to only 15 people, which includes the contestants.
“So, each event is closely monitored and closely supervised by health care professionals,” she said, “and by law enforcement.”