2012 Miss Hopi Crowned
Dozens of people crowded together in unorganized makeshift lines to see 20-year-old Christine Talayumptewa after the conclusion of the 2012 Miss Hopi pageant. A scene she likely envisioned after being announced the new Miss Hopi in front of family and friends in Keams Canyon, Ariz.'s Hopi Jr./Sr. High School. Instead, her supporters were gathered around to console her and sometimes themselves after the pageant committee announced a mistake had been made and that Talayumptewa was instead the first runner-up and not Miss Hopi.
The Friday afternoon event, July 27th, started or didn't start amid some controversy when one of the masters of ceremony, Lorna Joseph, was approximately 45 minutes late. A visibly agitated Kassondra Yaiva, chairperson of the Miss Hopi committee stood just inside the school's main doors, scanning the horizon back and forth looking for any signs of Joseph.
"I don't do things like this," a worried Yaiva said. "We start on time."
Yaiva, Miss Hopi herself in 2007, is a serious woman and widely considered the engine behind the pageant. Sometimes described as meticulous to a fault when she is working hard, it was easy to see her anxiety during the late start and then her subsequent silent disappointment and heartache when the wrong name was announced.
But, the spirit and purpose of the pageant was not lost on anybody. The school's relatively large auditorium was near capacity with more than 450 spectators from Hopi and surrounding reservations in attendance.
"Miss Hopi is important to our community because it showcases our young women and their talent and how they give back to their culture," Nancy Yaiva, mother of the chairperson, said. "They are role-models for Hopi women, ambassadors to the public and each is expected to have a platform."
This year's three contestants were whittled down from approximately 20 young women. In order to vie for the crown, contestants must be enrolled members of the tribe, be 18-23 years in age, never been married, be childless and come recommended by members of the community.
"Angwusmana" Christine Talayumptewa, 20, Bamboo clan, represented the Village of Mungapi. "Dawavensi" RaeChelle Lynn Antone, 20, Bear clan, represented the village of Mishongnovi. "Huminmana" Jacqueline Poleahla, 19, Sunflower clan, represented the Village of Sipaulavi. Together the three young ladies competed in several categories including traditional talent, contemporary talent, introductions in Hopi and a round of interviews.
Radio consultant to Native stations, Bert Polei, recently returned to Hopi after being away for several years and was surprised by the pageant's popularity throughout the community and abroad. Now working for KUYI Hopi Radio and the night's co-MC, Polei was honored to be in the presence of so many traditional young ladies and their supporters.
Out-going Miss Hopi, April Pavinyama's platform was the conservation of natural resources and why teaching Hopi culture to the youth is important. Her mother Felicia Yaiva describes her daughter's reign as very busy and a great deal of work for the family but overall very positive. Pavinyama took a year off from studying environmental science in Tsaile, Arizona’s Diné College, to travel throughout Hopi and surrounding communities.
"It's been so much fun and went by so fast," Yaiva said. "We gone on and off the reservation, everywhere."
Perhaps there was a small sense of relief and satisfaction for Pavinyama because she served her people well and now she would return to school and her life.
"It's a good feeling knowing that it's over and I'm proud of the girls for their achievements and hard work throughout the week, and I couldn't say more about how happy I am for them," Pavinyama said. "I've done what I did for my people out of my heart and I hope that they remember me for all the good work I've done."
As the night wore on, each contestant had an opportunity to make their case to the judges. Their respective supporters made sure to voice their very loud approval every time their representative entered and left the stage.
Once the presentations and talents were considered and scores added up, Antone was quickly announced as the second runner-up. Allowing the moment to build and the auditorium's collective anticipation to rise, the MCs paused momentarily and then announced Poleahla the first runner-up. Talayumptewa's eyes immediately welled up with tears and she subtly moved her head back and forth looking across the room as if she hardly believed the news.
The result would not stand and a few minutes later, the exact moment out-going Miss Hopi finished placing the first runner-up sash on Paleahla, one of the MCs announced there had been a mistake. Another pause ensued. Simultaneous and equally loud cheers and jeers erupted from the crowd as it was announced that Poleahla was the new Miss Hopi and Talayumptewa the first runner-up. This time Talayumptewa was not so subtle and was unable to control the tears from running down her cheeks.
"They put both in one envelope and they were stuck together," MC Lorna Joseph said to describe the botched announcement. "If they had put it in separate envelopes it would have been better, instead when I pulled them out, it just came out as one."
The three young ladies upheld their duties and posed for pictures with eager fans and friends. They congratulated each other and wished their news sisters well. Only after they walked off the stage could some of the grief and sorrow be released.
"I don't know what happened, something that has never happened before and as a committee they need to talk about this to the family and especially the girls," a visibly distraught Carlene Talayumptewa, mother of Christine Talayumptewa said. "It took all the girls' hopes up and with that wrong doing I could see it, hear it in them."
After taking a moment to put things into perspective, Talayumptewa said it was probably an honest mistake and knows the committee worked hard to do a good job and the right thing.
"I am upset but on the other hand I'm proud of all of them because they are all winners and they did their best and had everybody's support," Talayumptewa continued.
The new Miss Hopi was credited with being the most traditional of the three contestants and better able to go into great detail about her culture in her native tongue. Poleahla recently lost her mother and has overcome shyness to compete in the pageant. She now plans to go around schools and warn young people of substance abuse and encourage them to listen to the elders and their wisdom.
"After tonight, I feel like I've accomplished something," Jacqueline Poleahla said. "Being Hopi feels so good and we are proud of who we are."