Courtesy University of New Mexico
Junior Marika Trujillo (center) from Laguna Pueblo has been crowned Miss Indian University of New Mexico 2016-2017. On the left is Tia Benally, and on the right is Alysia Coriz.

Marika Trujillo Crowned Miss Indian UNM

Frances Madeson

Junior Marika Trujillo from Laguna Pueblo has been crowned Miss Indian University of New Mexico 2016-2017. Trujillo, whose major is elementary education, won the title, crown and opportunity to represent UNM at area pow wows, feast days and other public appearances at the April 18 pageant.

Judging was based on five categories: essay writing; cumulative grade point average; the results of contestant fundraising efforts to sell raffle tickets, the proceeds of which benefit the Miss UNM Indian program; and the two competitions presented before the audience—“traditional talent” and contestants’ responses to impromptu questions.

For example, Trujillo was asked what useful information would she, as an ambassador for the campus, offer to new students. She spoke of the importance of getting involved in campus activities, especially student organizations like the Kiva Club and American Indian Student Services. The Kiva Club is currently protesting the university’s use of a decades-old seal that depicts a Spanish conquistador and a frontiersman, both figures representative of colonization.

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For her traditional talent she performed her pueblo’s Butterfly Dance, dancing with two other butterflies, accompanied by a drummer and two chanters shaking rattles. “We are dancing the fertilization of the land, we honor the pollinators, we take in all blessings through the dance,” she said while introducing the piece.

The butterflies wore fringed bangs that hung almost over their eyes like a blindfold. There were peacock feathers tucked in among the eagle feathers adorning their hair, and long silk ribbons hung down their backs. They sported painted cardboard butterfly wings, each decorated with a different but related pattern as they stepped in sync.

Freshman Alysia Coriz, (Kewa Pueblo) who received the highest score for her essay, is majoring in psychology and minoring in management, also presented a dance as her traditional talent offering. Hers was a more aerobic Buffalo Dance, more varied in tempo with many rapid and difficult to execute sequences.

She danced with two men holding bows, while she had a quiver with feathers strapped on her back over long hair that fell almost to her knees. Dancing at times with one hand on her side clasping her belt of shells, and the other holding a rattle decorated with short feathers and red yarn, her vigorous yet remarkably graceful performance was met with enthusiastic cheers.

Junior Tia Benally, who is both Diné and White Mountain Apache, is majoring in health education, with a minor in Navajo linguistics. She offered what she called “a rare look at a traditional ceremony” conveying in words, background flute music and slides a four-day coming of age ceremony—a girl’s puberty ritual that involves corn, wheat and raisin cake.

Stirring the batter for that cake with bundles of Navajo mixing sticks of varying amounts is at the heart of the ritual: nine sticks in a bundle for the months of gestation, seven for the days of the week a woman must feed her family, five for the five-fingered humans we are. As each stick is passed from hand to hand it represents wisdom shared.

Men participate in the ritual too, by tending the fire, which is a multi-stepped process that involves lining the pit with brown paper sacks, and then corn husks to protect the cake. Over that they add another layer of corn husks, and then burning charcoal on top.

“Cultural knowledge is not meant to be hidden,” she said as flute music played. “We can preserve the sacred gifts of endurance and resilience to be strong for our community. At the end of the ceremony the girl will walk with beauty and knowledge.” Benally was named first runner up and people’s choice awardee.

Before the crown was conferred to her successor, reigning Miss Indian UNM Renata Yazzie played Godard, Beethoven and a Chopin waltz on a grand piano. She seemed to have a special affinity for the Chopin; she rocked and swayed on the bench, playing with gusto. Her final piece was Navajo, and moving too, but this time, emotionally.

In her farewell address she recounted some highlights of her reign, which included a trip to Kindler, Germany for a three-week piano festival. At her professor’s suggestion she played there in traditional clothes, and soon found herself in the role of cultural ambassador, answering many questions. Comical ones like: “Do you know Kevin Costner?” but also important ones like: “We call you Indians, but what do you call yourself? What do you want us to call you?”

“It was a chance to change stereotypes, answer some very ignorant questions, and gently correct and teach,” she said.

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