Miss Navajo butchers sheep, dons evening gowns

Fri Oct 1, 2010 4:27pm EDT
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By Dennis J. Carroll

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona (Reuters Life!) - It's not your run-of-the-mill beauty contest, and not for the faint of heart.

But then the "Miss Navajo Nation" contest is not about America's next supermodel, or her aspirations to end world hunger.

"Miss America doesn't have to butcher a sheep to win. Our girls do," said Dinah Wauneka, director of the recently completed 2010-2011 Miss Navajo Nation competition. They (Miss America, Miss Universe) wear bathing suits, we don't."

The competition for this year's nine Navajo contestants, ranging in age from 19 to 25, was a celebration of the largely outdoor and agricultural-based lifestyle of the most populous tribe of Native Americans on the largest reservation in the country. The competitors built fires, cooked fry bread and slaughtered and butchered livestock.

The young women also showcased themselves in more conventional pageant-like events, such as a modern evening-gown competition and a talent contest.

Although several contestants gave decidedly contemporary performances -- one sang and danced to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" -- others flaunted a knack for more traditional pursuits. Notable presentations included grinding corn, weaving textiles, shearing sheep, spinning wool, and creating a fruit bouquet.

All the contestants were expected to speak the Navajo language fluently and demonstrate a firm grasp of the history of the Navajo, or Dine people, their culture and philosophies.

"We want to preserve our culture, our language," Wauneka said at the conclusion of the competition earlier this month at the Navajo Nation Fair. "It's very important that we do that."   Continued...