Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shi Yazhi Pageant 2013

by John Aldrich

The Shi Yazhi Pageant has been part of our annual rug show since 2005. At first glance one might be tempted to think that this is simply another beauty pageant for young girls, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is an event of cultural celebration designed to be an opportunity for young urban Navajo girls to learn about and actually practice their culture.

Navajo families living in northern Utah are often distanced from their heritage, and the children grow up immersed in Anglo culture with little opportunity to learn about their own cultural identity. Eileen Quintana, who has been the moving force behind this event from the beginning, envisioned the Shi Yazhi pageant as a chance to change this.

To participate in the pageant each contestant must present herself in traditional Navajo dress, learn to introduce herself in the Navajo language using her clan lineage, and demonstrate a traditional Navajo skill. All of this requires a big commitment on the part of both the participant and her family.

The winner of the contest then reigns as our Shi Yazhi Princess for the ensuing year and represents the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program at a variety of events. As symbols of her position, the Princess wears this crown and sash.

The first event on the road to this crown takes place several weeks prior to the rug show - in this case yesterday October 19th. All of the contestants appear at this time and are judged on the criteria mentioned above. From this initial field of contestants, three finalists are chosen who will appear on Saturday morning at the Rug Show when the final winner will be named.

At yesterday's event there were five contestants vying for the title, and this included two pairs of sisters.

The participants included Kolotita Mila and her younger sister Marlena on the left, Tiffany Grace Singer, and Monika Komar with her older sister Jasmine on the right.

In addition to the extensive preparations required to participate in all three phases of the judging, a good measure of courage is needed as well. Standing up before the judges and audience isn't easy, especially for the youngest girls. The two youngest were happy to have their older sisters at hand to give them some coaching when needed.

In the end, though, everyone was able to stand on their own.

A variety of talents were shown when it came time for the girls to demonstrate their traditional Navajo skill.

Kolotita and Marlena each had created a painting. The history of painting in Navajo culture is tied primarily to the art of sand painting used in traditional ceremonies. In this case, the girls created art with more personal meanings which they explained to the judges.

For her skill, Tiffany demonstrated the art of basket weaving. She described both the technical aspects of creating a traditional basket as well as the symbolism contained in the ceremonial basket design.

Monika performed a basket dance, counting her steps in Navajo.

Jasmine demonstrated how a Navajo infant is wrapped in a cradle board. We have seen this skill performed previously, but never with a real live baby.

The judges had a challenge choosing the three finalists after being presented with all this talent.

We are grateful to Shirlee Silversmith, Rose Yazzie, and Margie Upshaw Dobson for serving as judges. Rose clearly has experience with royalty since she serves as the American Indian Woman Scholar at the University of Utah.

As Shirlee addressed the contestants prior to announcing the winners, she pointed out that everyone who participated was, in fact, a winner. We applaud all of the contestants each of whom brought their individual talents and charm to the occasion, and we hope that the experience will serve to make each a better person as they grow in appreciation of their culture.

In the end, though, it had to come down to three, and as they were announced, they came and stood before the judges' table.

We look forward to seeing Tiffany, Jasmine, and Kolotita again at 10:00 on Saturday morning at the rug show when we find out who will serve as next year's Shi Yazhi Princess.

Here is a closing look at the cast of characters.

Join us at the show on November 9th for the final chapter in this wonderful event.

1 comment:

  1. wonderful event, beautiful girls!
    and good photography and article.
    thank you, all!