Hopefuls compete this week in 69th Miss Navajo Nation Pageant in Window Rock

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — Oshkaillah IronShell dug a knife into the carcass of the sheep she was cutting on Aug. 6 during the sheep butchering contest, the first event of the 69th Miss Navajo Nation Pageant.

IronShell, 19, is one of three women vying for the title as the pageant returns after being canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sheep butchering event is where contestants demonstrate their cutting and meat preparation skills and is a unique aspect to the pageant. 

According to the Office of Miss Navajo Nation, the titleholder has the responsibility of a goodwill ambassador and represents Navajo womanhood by exemplifying the essence of First Woman, White Shell Woman and Changing Woman while building a role as leader and teacher.

Miss Navajo Nation 2021-2022 contestant Oshkaillah IronShell cuts leg meat during the final round of the sheep butchering event on Sept. 6 in Window Rock, Arizona.

That combination of teachings and sharing those lessons is what makes the pageant important, Navajo Nation first lady Phefelia Nez said.

"I know we are told to go to school, to excel in western thought, in western teaching, western knowledge but within this pageant, you also have to combine that and it's really to showcase our own traditional thought, traditional knowledge, traditional teachings and then, of course, the Navajo language and its to showcase the Navajo culture and the role of women in it," Nez said.

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IronShell explained that she is running for Miss Navajo to increase her understanding about Navajo culture and tradition since she is Sicangu Sioux on her father's side.

"Why I wanted to run was because I wanted to be the Diné woman that I am because I'm two halves, half Diné and half Lakota. It's always going to be Diné first and that's through my mother. To prove that, I wanted to join this," IronShell said.

Miss Navajo Nation 2021-2022 contestant Shandiin Yazzie responds to questions about the process and tradition of sheep butchering during the pageant on Sept. 6 in Window Rock, Arizona.

The two other contestants are Shandiin Yazzie and Niagara Rockbridge. Each contestant is from Arizona.

For Yazzie, 25, becoming Miss Navajo has been a dream since she was a child and she would like to join the title's role with teaching communities about restorative justice and transformative justice.

Rockbridge, 22, seeks to further response efforts to the pandemic by building on the work by outgoing Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish.

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When Parrish won the title in September 2019, she never imagined a global pandemic would cause her reign to extend by a year.

The only other Miss Navajo to reign for more than a year is Charlotte Lawrence Greenstone, who served from 1954 to 1957.

Parrish has visited the 110 chapters within the last year to distribute food and supplies.

Pageant volunteer MyKaiah Charley, left, and outgoing Miss Navajo Nation Shaandiin Parrish cook tortillas on Sept. 6 at the Miss Navajo Nation 2021-2022 pageant in Window Rock, Arizona.

She also sewed face masks, attended COVID-19 vaccination events and joined tribal leaders as they talked about how to respond to the crisis, the Arizona Republic reported.

Parrish explained in an interview that ending her service this week is not bittersweet because she knows her service to the public will continue in other roles.

"I'm very honored to have served our people. It has changed my life and it has changed how I have come to know our people. I'm very fortunate to have that experience because it's shaped the trajectory of my career, of my life," she said.

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The pageant is normally held during the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock.

Since the pandemic canceled the fair for the second year, the pageant's events are being held without an audience and streaming live on the Facebook pages for the Office of Miss Navajo Nation and the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

The competition will resume on Sept. 8 with contestant interviews about business and traditional knowledge, followed by contemporary and traditional talent and skill on Sept. 10.

Miss Navajo Nation 2021-2022 contestant Niagara Rockbridge blesses the sheep at the start of the sheep butchering contest on Sept. 6 in Window Rock, Arizona.

A winner will be named during the coronation at 11 a.m. on Sept. 11.

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.

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