Editor’s note: The annual Miss Indian World contest was held during the Gathering of Nations, North America’s largest pow wow, April 26 to 28 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The event attracted more than 10,000 attendees and included 3,600 dancers who competed in a variety of traditional dances.

Miss Florida Seminole Randee Osceola and 29 other contestants vied for the title of Miss Indian World, who spends a year as a cultural ambassador for Native Americans. Taylor Susan, 25, of the White Mountain Apache/Walker River Paiute tribes of Arizona was crowned April 28. What follows is Osceola’s experience in her own words.

I started the week at Gathering of Nations and the Miss Indian World pageant at orientation where I met all 30 contestants. I was scared and nervous but ready for the experience. At orientation, they went over all the rules of the week and the requirements for the title as Miss Indian World. Overwhelmed with joy and jet lag, I went straight to sleep.

Before my interview the next morning, where I wore a long skirt and button-up shirt with a blazer, I turned in the money and the tickets I sold. I sold all of the tickets and raised more than $2,000 and am so thankful for everyone who bought tickets from me and helped support me on my journey.

During interviews, I smiled and answered every question to the best of my abilities. Before having dinner in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico that evening, we had a chance to explore. I wore a traditional outfit and was asked a lot of questions while wandering around town. I looked in shops and at beadwork and picked up a few items for my family back home.

Miss Florida Seminole Randee Osceola, center, participates in the Grand Entry with the other 29 Miss Indian World contestants at the Gathering of Nations. (Courtesy Randee Osceola)

Raffle tickets were drawn during dinner; however none of the Florida tickets were called. I and the contestants received raffle tickets of our own for door prizes and I won beaded napkin holders, which I will give to my grandma for her collection.

The next morning, we practiced all day for the talent competition, from 7:30 a.m. until the opening of the doors at 6 p.m. For my talent, I told the story of the traveling song and how it was used for protection. Once the talent portion was over, I was excited and overwhelmed with joy when I saw the familiar faces of Junior Miss Florida Seminole Kailani Osceola and her family. They gave me words of encouragement that kept me going throughout the week, especially during the public speaking and dance competitions the next day.

For public speaking I was asked to describe the outfit I was wearing, which was a modern traditional dress with our medicine colors on it. I explained the dress was made by my mother and what the colors mean to the Tribe. After that I had a short break to wander around the Gathering of Nations, look at all the vendors and take pictures with many other princesses.

While looking around, I found Miss Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Summer Leigh-Ann Foster, and did an interview for the tribe’s website. They all are more than excited to come down to Florida for the Miss Seminole pageant in July. After meeting with them it was time to grab my shakers and head to the Miss Indian World dance competition.

On my way, I got a lot of questions about my shakers and how they are made. I explained to people that they are traditionally made with turtle shells and rocks to make the noise, but the turtles that we use are on the endangered species list. As such, we now use milk cans and BB bullets.

We were split into three groups for the dance competition. I was in the second group so I got to see how fast the drum was going and how hard I needed to stop my shakers. When it was my turn, I walked over to the section where my mom, Kailani and Kailani’s family were sitting. Before the drums started, I gave them a smile and started to stomp with the beat.

I danced the Corn Dance and started low looking for the corn while stomping my shakers as hard as I could. Since I didn’t have a partner I smiled to the crowd while shaking my cap and asking for corn. When it was time for my last move, I smiled to the crowd while putting the corn in my camp. I managed to do this around the arena four times before the drums stopped, and luckily, I stopped on beat.

Once the competition was over I sat with my mother and Kailani’s family. They were all so proud that I brought tears to their eyes; they said that I represented the Tribe beautifully. Kailani’s mother Melody was amazed that she could hear the shakers over the crowd and the drums. To her surprise I was only wearing eight of them on each side versus the 12 that I usually wear. I told her, “I was stomping hard; I wanted everyone to hear them.”

After the competition I got a quick bite to eat and headed off to sleep since the crowning was the next day.

As I prepared for the day, I felt proud about what I accomplished the day before. Regardless of the outcome, I felt great about the week and how I represented the Seminole Tribe.

Miss Florida Seminole Randee Osceola and Miss Indian World Taylor Susan pose together April 28 at Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Courtesy Randee Osceola)

The Miss Indian World contestants had two grand entries that day; one in the morning and one during the evening before the crowning. The first grand entry that day is what broke my spirit.

After the grand entry there was a middle-aged man standing there with his regalia shaking each contestants hand as we were lined up to leave the arena. He was telling each contest that they made their tribe proud and to keep smiling. However when he got to me, he skipped me. He didn’t shake my hand, he didn’t smile at me, he acted like I wasn’t there. I wanted to break down and cry, but maybe that’s what he wanted to do to me. So instead I walked away with a smile on my face while he shook the contestants’ hands behind me.

I didn’t tell my mom and didn’t want to tell anyone what happened because I felt embarrassed. I went about my day, still a little down about what happened but I was ready for the crowning that evening.

Before the crowning, we had a special walk where each contestant waved to the crowd. However during my walk a little girl ran up to me, smiled and told me “I want to be just like you one day.” I smiled and told her “she can be anything she wanted to be, just don’t give up.”

Then she asked if she could stand with me and wave to the crowd. I told her of course and that is exactly what she did. She stood there waving to the crowd with one hand and holding mine in the other. Before the actual crowning took place her mom came and got her and told me she wanted to see me after crowning. During the crowning I walked away with nothing, but I was proud of myself for doing the pageant.

But right after the crowning was the highlight of my entire week of the pageant because the little girl’s mom pulled me aside and gave me a hug. I was surprised and I hugged her back. We had a conversation about her daughter, who is usually very shy and doesn’t do well with strangers. But she was amazed that she jumped out of her seat and ran to me. The mother told me I had a good heart and that I was going to go far in life. I told her thank you with tears in my eyes.

Now I believe that the Creator made the little girl run up to me that day; he knew I needed a boost because I was feeling down about the man not shaking my hand. That little girl reminded me why I always have a smile on my face and try to my best ability to be a good role model to all.

In conclusion, I had a wonderful time at Gathering of Nations. I met beautiful people and learned amazing things about tribes all over the United Stated and I learned that we are all the same, we are all connected. We may be taught differently and practice our culture differently, but we all come from the same colors and were taught to respect Mother Earth and what she does for us.

I want to thank everyone who bought tickets from me and even donated to help me. It meant the world to me and I cannot thank everyone enough. I love you all and thank you for supporting me throughout my reign I hope I made you all proud.

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