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.
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.
At yesterday's event there were five contestants vying for the title, and this included two pairs of sisters.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a closing look at the cast of characters.
show on November 9th for the final chapter in this wonderful event.