Every year during the Navajo Nation Fair, hundreds of spectators would travel to watch the prestigious Miss Navajo Nation Pageant, listen to it on KTNN AM 660 or watch a previously recorded telecast by Navajo Nation Broadcast Services. Many talented, articulate and passionate ladies from across the Navajo Nation compete in the pageant in hopes of becoming the new Miss Navajo Nation. This competition has proven to represent the beauty of our culture, language and tradition. In addition, Navajo elders, community members and children leave with a refreshing sense of Navajo pride. For over half a century, Miss Navajo Nation has provided a leader, a role model and an advocate for culture and language.
Miss Navajo began in 1952 with the first Miss Navajo, Beulah Melvin Allen, M.D. According to Dr. Allen, the selection of Miss Navajo was quite simple back then. Contestants vying for the title would stand in front of an audience of approximately 10, 000 people. The young lady who received the loudest applause would be crowned “Miss Navajo.” During this early period, there was also a selection of “Miss Navajo” and “Miss Modern Navajo.” Miss Navajo would represent the traditional Navajo way of life while Miss Modern Navajo would represent the modern way of life. The two ladies would represent bridging of traditional and modern worlds and the importance of obtaining education and technology to further progress of our nation.
Today, the Miss Navajo Nation Pageant replaces the “Applause Competition.” The four-day competition involves both the Navajo and modern way of life in the Traditional and Contemporary Skills and Talent Competitions. In 1996, the traditional sheep butchering contest was incorporated to demonstrate a young lady’s knowledge of preparing traditional foods. The most important qualification for the Miss Navajo Nation Pageant is to be fluent in the Navajo and English languages. The contestants must fill the requirements of having knowledge of the Navajo culture and tradition. Unlike most beauty pageants throughout the world, the Miss Navajo Nation Pageant is of beauty “within” one’s self.
The grace, pride and teachings of mothers and grandmothers of the Navajo people blossoms and manifest themselves through these fine young ladies. After arduous preparations and completing the competition, a young lady is selected to reign for one year. It has become highly publicized and celebrated by people of all ages. The benefits and honors derived from the title are tremendous and it is indeed an honor to be the titleholder.
During this time, they address several issues to assist in the reinforcement of a positive attitude and self-empowerment among our people. Usually their platforms and projects of choice are what they are passionate about and/or are of expertise. Each continues to grow in teachings given by elders in hopes they share the knowledge with the people. During the year, Miss Navajo Nation visits countless elderly homes and centers sharing, learning and revitalizing our Navajo Philosophy in partnership with elders. They have the pleasure of motivating Navajo youth to work toward accomplishing their goals and strengthen youth programs. This is achieved by the numerous school visits, coordinated projects of Miss Navajo Nation’s choice and partnership developed to reinforce Navajo Nation program’s initiatives with Miss Navajo Nation’s help.
For over fifty years, the young ladies selected as the Goodwill Ambassadors of the Navajo Nation have successfully accomplished many goals, which include establishing relationships between various nations and providing a positive role model for young people everywhere. Throughout the years, Miss Navajo Nation has represented both symbolic and real-life efforts and will continue to do so in the 21st Century.
Dr. Beulah Melvin Allen became the first Miss Navajo at the Navajo Nation Fair in 1952. The Miss Navajo was selected by crowd applause before evolving into the competition and pageant we know today. There have been many changes to the Miss Navajo Nation title since its birth. For example, Miss Navajo 1954 - 1956, 1957-1958 Charlotte Lawrence Greenstone was the only woman to hold the title for three terms.
Title holders can now only serve one term but, as Sunny Dooley remarked in the PBS documentary “Miss Navajo,” once you’re Miss Navajo, you’re always Miss Navajo. After Charlotte Lawrence, the pageant introduced dual crowns with Miss Traditional Navajo and Miss Modern Navajo to represent the two worlds women must walk in modern society. This changed back into the singular Miss Navajo title with the 1963-1964 Miss Navajo Anna Mae Begay Fowler.
In 2010, Winifred Bessie Jumbo was introduced as the first Miss Navajo Nation with the new title name. The name was changed to represent the position Miss Navajo Nation represents in the tribal governance system.
Miss Navajo Nation has the ability to introduce new and exciting changes to the competition or reign. Recently, Miss Navajo Nation 2016-2017 Ronda Joe caused a stir when she removed fry bread making as a competition category and replaced it with traditional foods. Miss Navajo Nation 2012-2013 introduced a special edition Miss Navajo Nation Pendleton shawl that has continued today to honor both the title holder’s reign and the continued legacy of Miss Navajo Nation and the female deities she embodies.
Past title holders include a diverse range of successful women from a Grammy-nominated singer to several woman with doctoral degrees. As each year passes by, Miss Navajo Nation remains a consistent presence that endures administration change and the changing of time. Each Miss Navajo Nation bears gifts and talents she shares with her people and inspires young girls across the great Nation to showcase pride, confidence, and beauty.
There are many stories of young girls seeing Miss Navajo Nation riding a horse on a parade route or seeing her speak at an event and wanting to become Miss Navajo Nation themselves. It is a unique and beautiful cycle on the path to self-determination for the Navajo people.