Cheyenne Kippenberger said it’s hard to believe that her one-year reign as the Seminole Tribe’s first Miss Indian World is in its last months.
But she’s not one who has much time to sit and reflect these days. Kippenberger constantly travels, attends trainings, organizes events, collaborates with tribes and other groups and speaks out on topics that are important to her and the Seminole Tribe.
One of her notable invitations was to attend a training last summer in Washington, D.C., on the topic of human trafficking.
The one-day event was hosted by the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) at the Aspen Institute, where Kippenberger serves as an ambassador.
The training took a deep dive into different aspects of human trafficking and how it affects Native Americans. The trainers were human trafficking survivors.
Kippenberger, who has a relentless curiosity, said her brain kicked into high gear and she absorbed all the information for eight hours straight.
Then true to form, after she returned home to Hollywood she planned the best way to share what she’d learned with the Tribe.
The result: with the help of CNAY, she organized “Conquering Human Trafficking,” facilitated by Seminole Tribal members, for Seminole Tribal members. It took place Jan. 24 at the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium in Big Cypress.
In addition to laying out the basics of human trafficking, the training included a self-defense course using old Seminole War fighting styles by Quenton Cypress and Tucomah Robbins of the Osceola Warriors.
The attendees learned how to raise awareness of human trafficking and utilize the “Unconquered” Seminole culture as a weapon to battle it.
“It was interesting. We got a diverse group,” Kippenberger said.
Kippenberger said it helps to start with a generally accepted definition of human trafficking, because many people don’t have a firm grasp of what it means or have misconceptions about it.
The Department of Homeland Security provides a definition on its website.
“Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations,” the post reads.
The DHS goes on to say that millions of men, women and children are trafficked across the globe on a yearly basis. In addition, individuals who are often most vulnerable are those with language barriers and those who fear their traffickers and/or law enforcement.
“[Traffickers] look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability,” the post continues.
The DHS also explains some of the myths and misconceptions of human trafficking. (For more, go to dhs.gov and enter “What is human trafficking?” in the search bar).
“We talked about the vulnerability of [missing and murdered Indigenous women] and some of the initiatives we can take; how to spot the signs,” Kippenberger said. “It’s not limited to sex rings. It was really eye-opening.”
Human traffickers often withhold personal documents like passports or other ID.
“Traffickers force them to work for you. For immigrants, it can mean working hard labor jobs without the pay. It’s a modern form of slavery,” Kippenberger said. “A lot of these men will tell girls: ‘I’ll give you a better life off the rez.’”
It was important for Kippenberger to include the self-defense portion of the training.
There are simple moves one can learn, she said, like if you’re faced with a drunk guy grabbing a hand or trying to touch your hair.
“Feeling empowered is having control over a situation,” she said.
Kippenberger was joined by her colleague and friend, Tomasina Chupco, who works at the Native Learning Center, in organizing the event.
The duo previously organized the Tribe’s first-ever symposium focused on Native trauma and healing in October 2019 – “Healing the Circle in our Tribal Communities.”
“What we do is a solution-based approach,” Kippenberger said. “We start with awareness and end with a call to action.”
Kippenberger said she and her sister will share their location with each other through a setting on their smartphones.
“If I’m going to go for a run for an hour, I let her know,” Kippenberger said. “You can do that with your circle of friends and family.”
Kippenberger said she challenged the attendees to come up with their own plans to watch out for each other within their circle of friends and family members.
She and Chupco are thinking ahead to the next version of the training. They want to open it up to include descendants and Miccosukee Tribal members.
Kippenberger wants the next one to be bigger, include more self-defense training, and, perhaps, involve some of the staff and students from the Ahfachkee School.
CNAY offers a human trafficking resource guide and more information, including a helpline. Go to cnay.org and enter “human trafficking” in the search bar.
On the go
Kippenberger, who celebrated her 24th birthday Feb. 6, travelled to Tempe, Arizona, for Unity’s (United National Indian Tribal Youth) midyear conference from Feb. 14-17.
She is a Unity peer guide for its “Healing Indigenous Lives Initiative.” The group’s annual conference takes place in July 3-7 in Washington, D.C.
For the last few months of her reign as Miss Indian World, she is also hoping to travel to New Zealand to meet with the Indigenous Māori people.
Her short-term bucket list also includes trips to Alaska and Hawaii.
And then, of course, there is the “Gathering of Nations” in Albuquerque from April 23-25 where she will pass on her crown to the next Miss Indian World.
“Speaking with the youth has been the best part,” Kippenberger said. “I make them feel heard and they ask questions.”