In Navajo country, a Miss contest that is unlike any other

“You imagine Miss USA or Miss Universe slaughter a sheep? ” explained to Los Angeles Times a candidate for the Miss Navajo election. Far from standard beauty contests, this competition has everything the obstacle course, halfway between tradition and modernity. Report in Arizona.

The 69th annual Miss Navajo Pageant, held in Window Rock, Arizona, kicked off on Monday, September 6, shortly before 7 a.m.

Three young women, who wore brightly colored long dresses and aprons, were facing three bound and bleating sheep. They blessed the animals by patting them with short pine branches. “Let the slaughter begin”, launched the master of ceremonies.

They then each drew a knife and grabbed an animal by the jaw to slit its throat. Blood has flowed on the clay.

The Miss Navajo pageant is unlike any other. Faced with the decline of the traditional way of life, this competition honors in-depth knowledge of the culture, customs and language of the Navajo people, as well as the skills essential to succeed in today’s world.

In the fall of 2020, this six-day event was canceled due to Covid-19, which left more than 1,400 dead in the reserve, which has nearly 200,000 inhabitants.

In early September 2021, the alumni kicked off the new edition: the general public was not invited, but a few journalists were invited, and Navajo videographers broadcast the event live on YouTube and Facebook.

Under a white barnum, the candidates had one hour to kill and skin the sheep, then thirty minutes to gut it and twenty minutes to cut it.

Shandiin Yazzie, 25, was busy removing all the skin from the sheep. “First aid!” she cried after cutting herself. Her finger was soon wrapped, but then she needed five stitches. She did not forfeit so far.

One of her two rivals, Oshkaillah Lakota Ironshell, 19, methodically removed the skin of her animal, starting with the belly.

While the young women were at work, three judges watched them, took notes and asked them all kinds of questions. Why did you make a gash here? What is this particular song for?

“Ultimate competition”

Niagara Rockbridge, 22, had it all. In forty-five minutes, well ahead of her two opponents, she had skinned and gutted her sheep, and was beginning to clean the guts. “Miss Navajo is the ultimate Navajo woman”, she emphasizes:

This is the ultimate competition, as it tests the candidate’s mental and physical strength. Can you imagine Miss USA or Miss Universe slaughtering a sheep? ”

The competition was first held in 1952 at the Navajo Nation Fair, and it drew thousands of visitors. It quickly became an annual event. There were often a good dozen candidates, judged by their appearance in traditional dress.

The public chose the winner. “It was the one that triggered the greatest thunderous applause”, says Sophina Shorty, crowned Miss in 1988 and commentator this year.

A matrilineal society

Back in the day, when supermarkets were scarce on reserves, knowing how to slaughter a sheep was a common skill, and the Navajo language was spoken by many locals. As the language and traditions lost ground, the organizers reinvented the competition, realizing that they had to act quickly.

In a matrilineal society which elevates women to the rank of guardians of


David Kelly

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