Chairman: Truly an historic occasion for the Seminole Tribe of Florida
HOLLYWOOD — After proudly representing the Seminole Tribe of Florida on her way to winning the Miss Indian World crown, Cheyenne Kippenberger received a hero’s welcome as the Tribe showed how proud it is of this rising star who is eager to share with the rest of the Tribe and Indian Country her remarkable story of triumph over doubts and struggles.
Hundreds of people, including Kippenberger’s family and elected officials, filled a banquet room at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood for a Sunday luncheon May 19 in Kippenberger’s honor.
Lavonne Rose – Kippenberger’s aunt and the Tribe’s Secretary – emceed the two-hour ceremony.
“Not only did she represent Seminole women and the Tribe, but she inspired many of us – from the little ones to the elders – with her friendship, kindness and positive attitude.
“I can attest to how hard she worked at putting her heart and soul into preparing for Miss Indian World and the heart and soul she put into the whole week,” Rose told the audience.
The Tribe’s elected leaders expressed their joy with each taking a turn at the podium. Here’s a sampling:
Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.: “This is truly an historic occasion for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. For something like this to happen to one of our individuals who represents us so well to now represent the world of Indigenous People is truly amazing and an honor.”
Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola: “You’ve inspired a whole generation of young Seminole girls to actually get involved and try to pursue their goals and follow you in your footsteps and what you’ve been able to accomplish.”
Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr.: “I was most impressed when I saw you at the Big Cypress foster home at Christmas time… You were there interacting with the children, handing out gifts, eating with them, playing with them. That was something I will remember about you and I think you’ll carry that trait throughout your life.”
President Mitchell Cypress: “We’re very proud of you. We all look up to you. We love you. Do your best for the Tribe; I know you will.”
Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard: “You came back unconquered.”
After receiving praise from the officials and after everyone ate lunch and watched a 10-minute video that highlighted her capturing the crown in New Mexico, it was Kippenberger’s turn to take the mic.
What followed were heartfelt, stirring and emotional words from Miss Indian World. The audience heard an inspirational address about the valleys and peaks Kippenberger, 23, has encountered on a path that ranged from temporarily dropping out of high school to battling mental health issues to becoming the first Seminole winner of Miss Indian World.
“High school was a really hard time for me. I didn’t realize it until later on, but I was really struggling with depression and anxiety,” she told the audience. “Because I didn’t have that self-awareness yet, I thought there was just something wrong with me.”
But at stages along the way – support came to her in various ways, through family, the Tribe’s Center for Behavioral Health, and even coworkers at an auto dealership.
“After dropping out of high school for a while, I decided to work full time,” she said. “While working at this car dealership in North Miami … I found a really, really unconventional place of support. My coworkers, my managers pushed me to go back to school, and I still didn’t want to go. I just didn’t think it was for me. I didn’t have the grades, I didn’t have the work ethic.”
But the seed was planted.
“This group of people that just knew me as another coworker, as the girl that worked at the rental department for Lexus, pushed me to go to back to high school. I was still hard-headed and I decided to go back for only one day a week. I started to go to school just on Fridays. In doing that, I ended up at this tiny high school off Davie Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, and I ended up graduating. I walked across the stage as a high school graduate and I got my high school diploma in the most unconventional, wrong way there could possibly be, but I did it.”
Kippenberger’s path started to become smoother.
“I think I can do college,” she said.
Indeed. Not only did she do college; she excelled, graduating from Keiser University with a 4.0 GPA with an eye toward a career in accounting.
Kippenberger urged those who need help to seek help, just as she did.
“If there’s one thing I can tell you, use our resources. We are very blessed to have a Center for Behavioral Health on one of our reservations. Don’t be ashamed. I was ashamed for so long, and because of that I was side-tracked from a lot of things that I could have done, maybe should have done,” she said.
She plans to share that message with the rest of Indian Country during her year as Miss Indian World.
“As Native people, we suffer from disproportionate statistics of mental health and depression, anxiety, suicide. Because we don’t understand these things, we turn to these really dark places, and I’m telling you, it doesn’t have to be that hard and you’re not alone in that struggle,” she said.
Kippenberger also strongly criticized the way Native Americans continue to be depicted in media.
“We are always portrayed in these really negative ways,” she said. “If it’s not shirtless on horseback, it’s playing the drunk Indian in a solider movie or something. That’s got to stop. I’m really tired of it. That’s not who we are; we’re a lot more than that. We’re our culture, we’re our languages, we’re our clothing, we are our own people and we’re all distinct.”
Kippenberger reserved the final portion of her talk to thank those in attendance, including those who have helped her during her reign as Miss Florida Seminole, and ultimately Miss Indian World.
“Miss Seminole changed my life. I’m eternally grateful to [Princess Committee chairwoman Wanda Bowers], the Committee, my aunt, my sisters being behind me, my mom and dad being behind me,” she said, “because I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t done that.”
She concluded by thanking the Seminole community.
“Thank you to my people, thank you to all of you,” she said. “I hope that through this year I honor you guys and I do you proud.”