Four contestants vie for Ms. Indian San Juan College

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Twyla George, a contestant for Ms. Indian San Juan College, prepared blue corn mush using a recipe she learned from her grandmother.

FARMINGTON — Ms. Indian San Juan College contestant Twyla George showed a video of herself cooking blue corn mush during the pageant's traditional foods demonstration on Tuesday.

George, 19, learned how to prepare the dish, which consists of blue cornmeal, juniper ash and water, from her grandmother.

"Blue corn mush is a tradition in Diné. It's also our tradition in my family, it's what everyone loves," she said in an interview after the presentation.

There are four contestants vying for the title, which promotes cultural awareness and the understanding of tribal nations while representing Native American students at the college.

The competition started Tuesday. Each contestant prepared their food beforehand then shared the finished product with the judges and audience.

Ms. Indian San Juan College contestant Samantha Ramires talks about ingredients used to make a hominy and pork soup from the Choctaw Nation on Tuesday at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.

Samantha Ramires, 27, fixed tanchi labona, a hominy and pork soup from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

Ramires, who is Choctaw, Seminole and Creek, moved from Dallas to Albuquerque, then to Farmington with her fiancé.

She decided to prepare the traditional food to thank the community for welcoming her and to share a part of her culture.

"I knew they would accept who I am and what my traditions are because looking at them upholding their traditions, it was amazing, and it made me want to do the same thing," Ramires said about the three Diné women she is competing against.

Charlene Begay fixed chiichin, a pudding from sumac berries, using a recipe from her grandmother and shared information about the pudding, a lesson she learned from her great-grandmother.

Charlene Begay prepared chiichin, a pudding from sumac berries, for the traditional foods demonstration for the Ms. Indian San Juan College pageant on Tuesday at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.

This is the first time Begay, 21, is seeking the pageant title, which she views as an opportunity to represent herself, her family and the college community.

"I want to represent myself as a Native American woman and try to bring awareness to education and culture," she said.

Jacqui Francis, 19, decided to participate in the pageant because she wants to inspire the youth from her hometown of Dennehotso, Arizona.

"Yes, life happens but education is a priority and you can do all you can while holding a crown or when going through anything tough," Francis said.

She made blue corn mush and said her nervousness calmed when she started explaining the process to prepare the food.

Jacqui Francis answers a question about the blue corn mush she made for the traditional foods demonstration as part of the Ms. Indian San Juan College pageant on Tuesday at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.

"I told myself, 'you're at plan A, you haven’t got to plan B. At least you're learning. Win or lose, you're still doing it," she said.

Byron Tsabetsaye, director for the college's Native American Center, said pageant contestants throughout the years have represented various tribes, including Navajo, Ute, Pueblo and First Nations from Canada.

This year, the pageant is taking place over four evenings at the college.

Contestants completed the interview portion on Wednesday and the traditional and contemporary talent event is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Little Theatre on campus.

Contestants Samantha Ramires, Charlene Begay and Twyla George, from left, show support for Jacqui Francis during the Ms. Indian San Juan College pageant on Tuesday at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.

Coronation will be on Saturday following grand entry at the San Juan College All Nations Community Powwow at the college's north campus ball field.

The powwow, organized by the Native American Center and the All Nations Leadership Association, is returning after a year hiatus, Tsabetsaye said.

The event will be from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday.

Tickets are $1 in advance and can be purchased from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the college's Native American Center on Thursday.

Tickets on Friday and Saturday are $3 for general admission, $2 for adults 60 and older, $1 for individuals with a San Juan College identification and children under 5 are free.

All tickets sold are cash only.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Ms. Indian San Juan College 2017-2018 Kahlaya Rose McKinney distributes blue corn mush to judges on Tuesday at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.
Judge Kelsi Monroe, center, samples tanchi labona, a hominy and pork soup from the Choctaw Nation, during the traditional foods demonstration on Tuesday for the Ms. Indian San Juan College pageant at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center in Farmington.