HOLLYWOOD — The Seminole Tribe of Florida ushered in new royalty at the 61st annual Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant.
In front of hundreds of spectators at Tribal headquarters auditorium, Cheyenne Kippenberger, 22, was crowned the 2018 Miss Florida Seminole Princess on July 14 while Allegra Billie, 17, won the Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Princess title. They will represent the Tribe for the next 12 months at a variety of events and functions on the Seminole reservations, throughout Indian Country and beyond.
The pageant, which drew six contestants, was emceed by 1986 Miss Florida Seminole Tina Osceola. For the title of Miss Florida Seminole, former Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Princess Thomlynn Billie, 18, of Big Cypress, finished runner-up to Kippenberger. Alycia Mora, 19, of Immokalee, was third.
In the Jr. Miss pageant, Clarice DeMayo, 14, of Hollywood, was runner-up followed by Luxie Billie, 15, of Brighton, in third place.
Judges were Kansas state representative Ponka-We Victors, reigning Miss Indian World Taylor Susan and BNSF Railway Tribal Relations Director Chris Howell. Contestants were judged on their essays, personal interviews, stage presentation, traditional outfit, poise and appearance, talent and responses to an impromptu question.
The pageant serves as the pinnacle to several months of work by the Pageant Committee, led by Chairwoman Wanda Bowers and committee members Alice Billie, Charlotte Burgess, Carla Gopher, Connie Gowen, Cassandra Jimmie, Christine McCall, Tina Osceola, Naomi Wilson and Brittany Yescas. All are former Miss Florida Seminoles, including Gowen, who is the pageant’s first official princess from 1957 and now is affectionately known as “Backstage Grandma” for the help she provides contestants backstage throughout the evening.
“I’d like to give a big round of applause to Wanda and all her staff for everything they’ve done to keep [the pageant] alive and going for many, many years and all the hard work you and your staff have put in,” Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. told the audience.
After the winners were announced and crowns affixed, smiles never left the faces of the new princesses as they spent about a half-hour graciously posing for photos on stage with members of the Tribal Council and Board, including Chairman Osceola and President Mitchell Cypress, the judges, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’s princesses, former Miss Florida Seminoles, family members and friends.
Being named Miss Florida Seminole adds to the list of Kippenberger’s accomplishments this year. In May, she graduated from Keiser University, where she earned an associate’s degree in accounting. She plans to pursue a business degree at Johnson & Wales University.
“My main goal is to work in finance or accounting for the Tribe,” she said.
No doubt with all the projects and events being undertaken by the Tribe, her term wearing the crown will be busy.
“We have the Hard Rock opening, we have all these projects on the reservations happening,” she said. “It’s great to see the Tribe grow not just as a business, but becoming more self-sustaining and being pretty much what our ancestors wanted for us.”
This was the first Princess Pageant that Kippenberger entered and now she’s eager to start her reign.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “I’m so excited to learn and grow and make connections with (other Native Americans). I’m excited to be an ambassador; I’m excited to have this platform and have a voice and be able to teach and be an example.”
Kippenberger said she will cherish the days and activities surrounding the pageant, which included practice preparations, dinner and photography sessions. Before the pageant night finished, she and her fellow contestants had already made plans to go to Benihana the following day.
“I’m walking away with new sisters. It’s like we’ve known each other forever,” she said.
Kippenberger grew up in Hollywood. Her grandmother Lawanna Osceola-Niles, from the Panther Clan, was Miss Florida Seminole in 1960.
“I was rooting for her. I was super happy. She worked really hard to get this,” said Cheyenne’s father Joe Kippenberger.
Allegra Billie, daughter of Tammy Billie and Pedro Martinez, is from the Wind Clan. She grew up in a few different places, but mostly in Naples and now lives in Felda in Hendry County. She is headed into her senior year at LaBelle High School. As the reigning Eastern Indian Rodeo Association queen, Billie already has experience representing the Tribe.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go out and represent the Tribe in a smaller area, so to be the Jr. Miss Florida Seminole is a huge dream, a huge accomplishment,” she said.
She’s looking forward to her new duties and responsibliites as Jr. Miss.
“Meeting people and being able to be an ambassador for the Tribe, being able to speak for us, not only individually, but as a people,” she said.
As for someday competing for the Miss Florida Seminole title, Billie said that’s a likely possibility.
“Of course. Jr. Miss is just one step closer,” she said.
Kippenberger and Billie each won the talent portion of the pageant; Kippenberger demonstrated how to do traditional hairstyles that were worn by Tribal women in the 1930s and 40s; Billie’s performance centered around how to make patchwork.
In the traditional dress segment, Billie wore a dress made by her mother; Kippenberger’s dress was made by her older sister Kurya.
Before the winners were announced, outgoing Miss Florida Seminole Randee Osceola and Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Kailani Osceola provided tearful farewell addresses as they explained to the audience how much of an impact representing the Tribe for the past year had on their lives.
“My biggest realization is that you should never give up on your dreams,” Kailani said. “Chase it until it becomes a reality because that’s exactly what happened to me. Being a Jr. Miss Florida Seminole has been the most amazing year of my life. I have learned and grown so much throughout this experience … this title has brought me so much happiness and I so much learned how to be a young, confident Indigenous woman.”
Randee recalled that she didn’t have any competition last year for the title because she was the only contestant for Miss Florida Seminole, but she never took anything for granted.
“I knew at the time I didn’t want to be known as the girl who won because she was the only one. I put my 110 percent in every category and I hope I made you all proud throughout my reign,” she said.