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Miss Native American USA Pageant Melds Tradition and Modernity in Tempe

If the Miss America competition is Barbie, then Miss Native American USA is Skipper, lesser known and smaller in scale, but still very much in production. Its second-ever pageant brings together 10 native women from tribes across the U.S. to compete for a crown that represents how tradition and modernity blend in native life. Contestant Jacquelyn Jesus (Navajo) says that's part of the pageant's allure.

See also: Paul Frank Collaborates with Native American Designers for Fall 2013 Collection

Jesus chose to participate in this pageant because it's more modern than others, like Miss Navajo. Jesus says that she wanted to participate in that, but she didn't because it requires participants to speak fluent Navajo (which she does not) in addition to properly butchering a sheep.

"I think the whole concept is having a beauty pageant, but also incorporating traditional elements," Jesus says. That means looking good is important, but so is respecting elders and judges through her fashion, presentation, and talent choices. She hopes her modest clothing mixed with squash blossom jewelry, presentation on Navajo mythology, and Navajo language adaptation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will win the judges' favor.

If she wins, she's interested in making an impact on her community and plans on getting involved with Native American Connections, an organization that isn't tribe-affiliated and works to connect with and provide services to native people.

Doing charitable work is one of the requirements of MNAUSA pageant winners, along with being a goodwill ambassor among her peers and the Native American communities, says Tashina Atine, the pageant's director and founder. Atine is no stranger to pageants, as she was crowned Miss Phoenix United States 2012.

Miss Native American USA 2012 Shaylin Shabi (Navajo) is from Kayenta, Arizona, and works for the Arizona Department of Education's School Nutrition Program. She says that winning the crown last year helped her reach out to more native communities about health and nutrition, which was her platform in the competition, along with promoting alcohol awareness.

"I see the MNAUSA Pageant different because it helps boost the confidence in women by encouraging then to look and feel good about themselves inside and out," Shabi says. "We want women to be admired not only for their beauty but for the hard work that comes with the title."

In addition to a platform to raise awareness for her cause of choice, this year's pageant winner will receive a crown and sash, a traditional Pendleton blanket, and the opportunity to share her culture throughout the country.

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This year's contestants include women from New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. Each competitor must be unmarried and without dependents, between 18 and 27 years old, must hold one quarter of Native American blood, and live in the U.S. And, like Jesus, each has to present a balanced picture of traditional values and contemporary awareness through her performance, appearance, and presentation.

See who's crowned winner at the competition, which runs from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, August 3, at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. LeAndra Bitsie (Navajo) will host the event, and DJ KSupreme will serve as a special guest.

Tickets are $15 and available at TCA's box office, which can be reached at 480-350-2882 or www.tempe.gov/tca. Visit www.missnativeamericanusapageant.com for more.

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