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The Miss Navajo Nation Pageant Helps Bring Lost Traditions Back To Life

Beauty pageants aren’t all created equal. Some are little more than an excuse to minimize women to nothing more than their bodies. But some, like the Miss Navajo pageant, are helping to keep ancient traditions alive when they’re at risk of being lost to modern society. There is no bathing suit or evening gown competition, and the contestants aren’t held to impossible and unrealistic beauty standards. Instead, the decades-long tradition focuses on Navajo culture, womanhood, and leadership.

After more than two years of waiting, thanks to the pandemic, the Navajo Nation has a new Miss Navajo and she’s helping raise awareness on the pageant itself, but also the importance of keeping Navajo traditions alive.

Niagara Rockbridge is Miss Navajo 2021 and she’s proud to accept the crown.

After several events that tested three young women’s knowledge of Navajo culture and traditions, a new Miss Navajo was recently crowned, Niagara Rockbridge.

“It’s definitely a surreal feeling to know that you’re Miss Navajo Nation and that you carry the weight of the nation on your shoulders,” Rockbridge told AZCentral. “But I’m very excited and I welcome this new year as Miss Navajo.”

Twenty-two year-old Rockbridge accepted the crown at the Navajo Nation Museum in front of a large online audience and a small group of in-person guests, including her family. The online video of the coronation event had more than 24,000 views as of Monday.

As the reigning Miss Navajo, Rockbridge understands the responsibility she now faces.

“Many of those who died were our knowledge and wisdom keepers. We have lost lives, but we still have strength within us. I want to help preserve and revitalize our language and traditional way of life,” she told the LA Times.

The Miss Navajo pageant is unlike most pageants – and here’s why that’s a beautiful thing.

Unlike most pageants, the Miss Navajo pageant has no swimsuit competition and contestants don’t face extreme beauty standards. The event itself takes place half in English and half in the Navajo language, and contestants knowledge of Navajo culture and heritage is paramount.

One of the rounds of the pageant includes showing how to properly slaughter a sheep and prepare the cuts of meat in the traditional way, to prove Miss Navajo Nation’s ability to take care of her family and her people, and pass on the traditions to the next generation.

According to reporting from the LA Times, this year’s pageant began early in the morning with three contestants in long colorful dresses and aprons standing over a trio of sheep. The contestants patted the animals with small pine branches, blessing them.

The women then drew knives, grabbed the sheep by their chins and slit their throats allowing the blood to spill into the dirt. Definitely not your average beauty pageant.

The previous Miss Navajo – Shaandiin Parrish – did her title proud while supporting the nation through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shaandiin Parrish was crowned Miss Navajo in the fall of 2019 but thanks to the pandemic, she went onto hold the title for an extra year. She kept extremely busy during her reign. As the pandemic ravaged the Navajo Nation, it was one of the hardest hit areas in the U.S., Parrish’s role as Miss Navajo Nation changed.

“Nobody really tells you how to be Miss Navajo in general, let alone how to be Miss Navajo Nation during the pandemic,” Parrish told NPR. “We really took a hands-on approach and I’m very fortunate the president included me in the conversations and also in the food distributions to be on the front lines with him.”

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