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navajoI watched an hour-long documentary on Netflix yesterday that I am still thinking about today so I figured it might be worthwhile to write a short post about it. The title was “Miss Navajo,” produced in 2008. It followed a young girl who entered the Miss Navajo competition to represent her culture both within her tribe and to the outside world.

Held at a local Holiday Inn-type motel near the reservation, it certainly wasn’t like the typical beauty pageant. There were six contestants ranging in age from 18 to 24. They were at once very much like typical teenagers and yet very different in appearance and attitude.

One girl was overweight and two girls wore glasses – what! All looked very clean, neat and ‘maidenly’ in the best sense of the word. They dressed modestly and wore their long hair in traditional style. When they dressed in traditional clothing, each wore exceptional silver and turquoise jewelry including earrings, necklaces, belts and bracelets. Several had the beautiful high cheekbones and strong faces associated with Native Americans.

There were some basic requirements to enter the three day competition. The girls had to be over 18, unmarried, no children, and could speak Navajo. These competitions were not based upon beauty but upon skills that would enable a woman to help nurture her family to survive and thrive, and would help the tribe to reclaim its cultural heritage.

The ‘talent’ competition included a cultural performance such as story telling, singing, drumming and the like. There was a question and answer session in which they were quizzed on Navajo history, mythology and society. The questions and answers had to be spoken in Navajo.

Finally, there was what might be called a ‘competence’ competition that included building a fire, making and cooking bread, and killing, skinning and barbecuing a sheep (yes, you read that right). The sheep bit was the topper.

It was so easy to contrast this pageant to Miss America, Miss Universe and the like in which the contestants are required to look beautiful in a gown and swim suit, answer a question about how they would save the world, and perform something ‘artistic.’  These pageant are all about me, me, me, rather than the community or the nation.

Granted, it is not necessary for the girl from Memphis or New York to know how to kill a sheep or build a fire but using that premise of being able to survive in one’s culture, our pageant girls are not even tested to see if they can cook, sew, use a computer, balance a checkbook or put gas in the car.

Anyway, the documentary left me with a lot of questions. What are the survival skills of our modern world and what are we teaching our children about their heritage? Can we feel proud of how we are raising them?

Navajo Prayer
In Beauty may you walk.
All day long may you walk.
Through the returning seasons may you walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may you walk.
With grasshoppers about your feet may you walk.
With dew about your feet may you walk.
With Beauty may you walk.
With Beauty before you, may you walk.
With Beauty behind you, may you walk.
With Beauty above you, may you walk.
With Beauty below you, may you walk.
With Beauty all around you, may you walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of Beauty,
lively, may you walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of Beauty,
living again, may you walk.
It is finished in Beauty.
It is finished in Beauty.