BRIGHTON — Sisters Krysta and Leilani Burton shared the spotlight Sept. 26 when they were crowned Miss Brighton and Jr. Miss Brighton, respectively, during the 35th annual Miss Brighton Princess Pageant at the Florida Seminole Veterans Building.
“I want to represent Brighton and help youth learn about their culture,” said Krysta, 14, a ninth-grader at Okeechobee High School.
Founded in 1979, the pageant provides young girls an opportunity to represent their reservation while learning the ins and outs of competition. Many winners and contestants go on to compete in the Miss Florida Seminole Pageant.
“Our pageant is formatted like Miss Seminole, so the girls will have the experience and be able to present themselves,” said Salina Dorgan, Miss Brighton 1981. “We’ve had a lot of winners come from Brighton, and we hope it’s because our pageant prepares them and they know what to expect.”
During the pageant, the five contestants introduced themselves to judges, modeled traditional patchwork outfits, showcased their talent and answered impromptu questions. Before the pageant, the girls wrote essays about what Brighton Reservation means to them.
Dorgan, the mistress of ceremonies and a pageant committee member, kept the evening moving at a crisp pace and shared information about the contestants while they changed clothes between events backstage.
“My mother’s family has been here for many generations,” read Dorgan from Krysta’s essay. “I love hearing about my people and how they fought for what we have. Brighton is rich in tradition and culture and I’ve learned many things about our traditional ways. Learning about it is very important for our Tribe to survive.”
Jr. Miss contestants kicked off the talent competition; Leilani, 11, dressed in vintage 1950s-era clothing, performed a rousing dance to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” She was followed by Karey Gopher, 11, who used display boards to explain the history of the Seminole Tribe. Winnie Gopher, 10, gave a brief lesson in beading, and Alaina Sweat, 13, explained sweetgrass basket making. Miss Brighton contestant Krysta brought two children, her brother Caleb Burton and Harmony Urbina, onstage and told them a Seminole legend by the light of an electric “fire.”
All contestants answered the impromptu questions with grace and confidence. Questions included why they want to represent Brighton, the meaning of the tribal flag colors and the reason education is important.
“Education is important because if we want to go outside of the reservation to get a job, we need to have a good education,” said Leilani, a sixth-grader at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School.
Judges Tammi Kelley, of the Okeechobee News; Teresa Bishop, of Waste Management and B.R.A.T. (Building Relationships Among Teens) Club of Okeechobee; and Okeechobee City Councilman Gary Ritter had the difficult task of choosing the winners.
“They all know what their culture means to them,” Kelley said. “It’s a fantastic foundation.”
While the judges deliberated, the girls waited backstage.
“Win or lose, it was pretty fun,” Winnie said while the girls waited onstage for the pronouncement.
Krysta and Alaina won best essay in the Miss and Jr. Miss categories.
Krysta, daughter of Micki and Chris Burton, was crowned by outgoing Miss Brighton Harley Johns and reigning Miss Florida Seminole Destiny Nunez. Outgoing Jr. Miss Brighton Alaina Brady crowned Leilani.
The Brighton princesses will appear at tribal events, including Brighton Field Day, and represent the Tribe at annual festivals in the area, including Chalo Nitka in Moore Haven, Speckled Perch in Okeechobee and Swamp Cabbage in LaBelle.
“The girls have a lot of fun and learn a little bit about competition,” said Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. “They get something out of it in the way of sportsmanship. They all have their chance but someone has to win and others have to wait.”