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Gathering of Nations bids farewell Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger

Cheyenne Kippenberger with her family during the Miss Indian World virtual farewell. From left, her father Joe Kippenberger, grandmother Lawanna Osceola-Niles, her grandfather Juan Paz and her mother Susan Kippenberger. (Photo Robert Kippenberger)

After a historic two-year reign as Miss Indian World, Cheyenne Kippenberger stepped down during the virtual Gathering of Nations Powwow on April 24.

For the second year, Gathering of Nations was held online because of the pandemic. The event usually attracts about 3,000 dancers and 50,000 spectators to New Mexico, but this year everything, including the audience, was online.
About 15 emcees led the gathering and cued in participants from throughout Indian Country. First up were the Black Eagle singers from Montana, then the invocation by Bino Garcia and his young son Wasose, from the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“We had a very difficult year, send a helping hand grandfather,” Garcia said. “Help us get back to our way of life, our ceremonies for celebration, prayer and happiness.”

Other prayers and memorials followed. Arlie Neskahi, from the Coast Salish Tribe in Washington state, sang a song with his hand drum.

“This song sends a blessing to each and every one of you,” Neskahi said. “This is about walking in beauty, it’s a deep spiritual way we have that guides us to this day. As we walk on this earth, may be walk in beauty every day that we travel.”

Cheyenne Kippenberger poses with a cake made to commemorate her reign as Miss Indian World on April 24. The cake was made for her by chefs at Hard Rock and is topped with a replica of the intricately beaded crown. The cake was vanilla with raspberry filling and buttercream frosting underneath the lavender fondant icing. (Photo Robert Kippenberger)

Shortly thereafter, the Miss Indian World farewell began. Kippenberger was the 36th Native woman to wear the crown and the first to serve for two years. During her first year as Miss Indian World, she traveled a lot. During the second year, not at all.

“For the first time since 1983, Miss Indian World will remain unfilled,” said Kippenberger, a former Miss Florida Seminole and the first from the tribe to win MIW. “I had to find a new way to be Miss Indian World. I was through the roof ecstatic when they put the crown on my head and I am proud of being a Seminole woman. It was especially important to be authentic and real, I am also a regular Native woman.”

The farewell was hosted by Canadian television producer Lisa Meeches, Ojibway from Long Plain First Nation. She explained that due to the pandemic, the Miss Indian World committee decided to wait until next year to hold another pageant.

“Cheyenne triumphed through the adversity of the pandemic,” said Meeches, as she introduced her and asked what she learned during her reign.

“It was easy to channel that resiliency because it’s been in us since time immemorial,” Kippenberger said. “I knew I had a responsibility to my tribe, my family and Indian Country. I knew what I had to do. The solution was to go back to the roots of who we are and to our teachings.”

She said Miss Indian World was more than a competition; it was a bonding experience for all the contestants and she gave some advice to other girls who are thinking about competing for the crown next year.

“Just do it, don’t think about it,” Kippenberger said. “Take that leap of faith in yourself. You are more than worthy and capable. It’s about representing your tribe, community, clans and family. Go out there and show everyone the best version of yourself.”

Meeches asked if she had a message for the families of other princesses out there.

“Being an ambassador is so much more than wearing a crown,” Kippenberger explained. “It’s the stuff that happens behind the scenes, like helping your elders and being with your people. Now the best way is to be there in spirit is on the phone and on Zoom. We have so much accessibility to each other now, we can do this even though we aren’t together physically.”

“Those were powerful words,” Meeches said.

A video produced by Seminole Media Productions highlighted Kippenberger’s reign.

“My first year, I dove right into it,” Kippenberger said. “I went to every event I was invited to. With the pandemic, I continued my reign for a second year. I was able to connect and visit with more people than I ever was able to in my first year. It was important to show what it is to be a modern Native woman in the world today. Just be you, that’s the best thing you can be.”

She explained how she shared her experience with mental health issues and she believes it helped people.

“It has been one of the most gratifying things being Miss Indian World,” Kippenberger said. “It’s been an honor to be even just a little bit of light in someone’s life.”

Members of the MIW committee bade Kippenberger farewell with heartfelt messages on Zoom. One at a time, they celebrated her with personal tributes and thanks for all she has done:

“Thank you for leading us so fearlessly and using your voice so unapologetically.”

“It was an honor to get to work with you, may you have continued success in all that you do.”

“Your smile is so infectious, you brought that onto all of us.”

“You are such a great role model for all the women of the world.”

“The journey you took, you took us with you on it.”

“You embody everything Miss Indian World is all about.”

After the emotional farewells, the powwow got underway starting with dancers from the Golden Age Women.

A few days after the Miss Indian World farewell, Kippenberger reflected on her years in the role.

“I’m grateful for everything,” she said. “You get exposed to so much and build friendships all over Indian Country. Miss Indian World was a beautiful platform. I always thought of it as a public service position.”

Kippenberger is continuing with projects of her own. She recently created a virtual space for current and former royalty in Indian Country to connect, exchange and collaborate on Facebook and Instagram. She also plans to continue her education and is applying to colleges out of state, where she will study communications.

“They say Miss Indian World changes you and makes you grow,” Kippenberger said. “Now I understand who I am and what I want to do. I feel like we are always trying to figure out our place in the world and I feel like I found mine.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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